Diplomats talk up prospect of peace on eve of Bush’s ‘roadmap’ visit
By Richard Beeston and Roland Watson
EVIAN: President Bush’s coming summit with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the Jordanian resort of Aqaba was hailed last night as the first real chance of ending three years of violence in the region.
According to Western sources in the region, Mr Bush’s first visit to the Middle East to promote the “road map” to peace could mark the beginning of the end of violence that has claimed 2,500 Palestinian and 750 Israeli lives.
Mr Bush said yesterday that he would spend as much time as necessary to achieve peace. But he said that it was up to the regional leaders, including the Arab heads of state he meets today in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, to facilitate the process outlined in the road map.
“My first message is I will dedicate the time and energy to move the process and I think we will make some progress, I know we are making progress,” he said.
Speaking before he left the G8 summit in France for Egypt, Mr Bush said: “My expectations on the Middle East are to call all the respective parties to their responsibility to achieve peace.”
US diplomats have been working hard to press Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, his Palestinian counterpart, to offer the maximum concessions possible when they make public declarations at Aqaba tomorrow afternoon. Mr Abbas is expected to assure Israel that his Government will endeavour to halt attacks by militants on Israeli targets by offering a ceasefire.
After talks in Jordan yesterday with King Abdullah, Mr Abbas said: “The Palestinian leadership is committed to implementing its part of the road map and calls on Israel to do the same.”
Mr Sharon is expected to offer to dismantle a dozen Jewish “outposts” on the West Bank, as well as to ease restrictions on Palestinians and free about 100 Arab detainees.
Certainly Mr Bush did not underestimate the difficulties. Neverthless, the occasion marks the first time in recent history that the Palestinians will be represented by a leader other than Yassir Arafat. Also, it is the first time that Mr Sharon and his right-wing coalition will commit themselves publicly to a Palestinian state and the dismantling of some settlements.
Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, said that the time had come for actions.
Asked as he arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh if the summit in Aqaba would produce concrete steps, General Powell said: “Statements always come before actions, but we are expecting action.”
Marwan al-Muasher, the Jordanian Foreign Minister, said: “We are on the verge of a new era.” But, he said, “We don’t, of course, want to be over-optimistic.” —LT