SHARM EL-SHEIKH - US President George W. Bush on Saturday pledged to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas his determination to help achieve the “dream” of a Palestinian state, despite stagnant peace talks.
“I commit to you once again that my government will help achieve a dream, a dream that you have, and the truth of matter is, a dream that the Israelis have, which is two states living side by side in peace,” Bush told Abbas.
President Abbas, who met Bush in Egypt to brief him on the state of talks with Israel, said he was working “seriously and very aggressively with the hope that we will be able to achieve this objective before the end of the year.”
However, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina later laid the blame for the slow pace of negotiations squarely on Israel, saying that “what Bush dreams should be implemented on the ground. Seeing is believing. We have to see tangible Israeli steps on the ground so that we can convince our people that things are going in the right direction,” Abu Rudeina told AFP.
Bush, who is in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for talks with world leaders before addressing the Middle East World Economic Forum, said “it breaks my heart to see the vast potential of the Palestinian people really wasted.”
The WEF meeting, dubbed the Davos of the Middle East, will bring together 1,500 people, including heads of state, business leaders and ministers from 55 countries, under the theme “learning from the future.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been mooted to attend the economic forum but with little Middle East peace progress to justify a three-way summit, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will lead the Israeli delegation instead.
Bush and Abbas also voiced concern about the situation in Lebanon, where fighting last week between pro- and anti-government forces killed 65 people and pushed the country to the brink of new civil war.
Bush arrived in Egypt Saturday from Saudi Arabia and went straight into talks with President Hosni Mubarak and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, before his meeting with Abbefore meeting with Mahmoud Abbas.
“In my speech tomorrow (Sunday), I’ll make it clear that I believe we can get a state defined by the end of my presidency, and we’ll work hard to achieve that objective,” Bush told reporters in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.”
The US leader, who is to deliver a speech on the opening day of the Mideast World Economic Forum, said he had spoken again with Israeli leaders about his goal and would do so with the Palestinians on Saturday and Sunday.
“Everyone of these meetings helps us inch toward the goal of getting a state defined with borders and the refugee issue as well as security concerns defined by the end of my presidency,” Bush said.
Bush began his tour in Israel where he addressed parliament as the Jewish nation marked the 60th anniversary of its founding, sparking the ire of Egypt’s press.
Bush is also to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II as well as Iraqi and Pakistani leaders ahead of his address to the WEF.
A meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora was dropped from Bush’s agenda. – AFP