TEL AVIV, Israel - President Bush said Friday that he would return to the Mideast in May to continue pushing the Israelis and Palestinians toward a peace treaty and celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary.
Israel's President Shimon Peres, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, second left, look on as U.S. President George W. Bush speaks after signing the guest book at the close of his visit in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Jerusalem, Friday, Jan. 11, 2008. [Agencies]
"There's a good chance for peace and I want to help you," Bush told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Israeli President Shimon Peres at the airport here, where he boarded Air Force One, ending his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
"Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. President, thank you very much for your invitation to come back. I'm accepting it now," Bush said on the tarmac.
From Israel, Bush was headed to Kuwait, a tiny oil-rich nation his father fought a war over and one of only two invited guests to skip the splashy Annapolis, Md., rollout Bush hosted for the new US-backed peace talks. Getting a peace pact signed presumably would resolve the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian dispute and would be a positive milestone in Bush's presidential legacy.
During his two days of formal talks with Olmert, Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Bush laid out US expectations, saying that the two sides needed to get serious talks started posthaste. On his way to visit Sunni Arab allies, Bush said he'd would ask them to reach out to the Jewish state.
"I carry with me a message of optimism about the possibilities of a peace treaty," Bush said with the two Israeli leaders. "I will share with them my thoughts about you and President Abbas and the determination to work to see whether or not it's possible to come up with a peace treaty."
The nascent peace talks haven't made much headway, with old disputes about land and terrorism clouding the negotiators' early meetings. US officials say Bush and his aides will be back to check up on the progress from here, and goad both sides.
Bush wants Arab states to throw support to Abbas in his internal fight with Palestinian militants and give him the regional support necessary to sustain any peace deal he could work out with Israel. Arabs came in force to Bush' Annapolis summit, and he had flattered them with frequent references to an Arab draft for peace that, like past US efforts, did not stick.
Close Arab allies including Egypt and Saudi Arabia had urged Bush to get more directly involved in Mideast peacemaking, saying the Palestinian plight seeded other conflicts and poisoned public opinion throughout the region. Those states and others have adopted a wait-and-see attitude since Annapolis, and Bush's visit to the region is partly meant to nudge them off the fence.