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Bush in Egypt for Talks on Mideast Peace 'Road Map' - 2003-06-03


President Bush is in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, on his first mission to the region for Middle East peacemaking. He will be discussing a plan with Arab leaders aimed at securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

President Bush meets with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Talks with the leaders Tuesday will center on the so-called road map to peace. It calls on the Palestinians to rein in militant groups and for Israel to ease restrictions for the Palestinians in the territories as part of a process of creating a Palestinian state by 2005.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath expressed confidence Monday that President Bush will stick with the plan. "We need first of all President Bush to continue with what looks like real involvement and engagement in the Arab-Israeli question," he said. "And that involvement is clear with this conference and the one in Aqaba. We would like him to continue in that role as a supporter of this peace process to push to get it implemented on the ground. And we want the Arabs to help do that."

Summit host Egypt's foreign minister Ahmed Maher says U-S support and particularly that of the president himself is what is really needed now, not just to kick start the peace process, but to see it through to its final stage.

"What is required is a firm commitment, implementation and monitoring of the implementation," he said. "And this is what we hope will be what comes out of the meetings."

Following the U.S.-Arab summit, President Bush will travel to Aqaba, Jordan, where he will hold talks with King Abdullah, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mr. Abbas.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Mouasher says the meetings are trying to reverse the cycle of violence and despair that has gripped both sides for the last three years.

"We are on the verge of a new era," he said. "We understand that this is going to be a lot of hard work. But we have to cross a major hurdle by both sides accepting the 'road map,' by both sides accepting each other as two independent states."

Mr. Mouasher says both sides will need much support if peace is to be achieved. U.S. officials say President Bush will press Arabs to end financial assistance to militant groups seen to hinder peace efforts.