Bush Vows Continued Involvement in Mideast Negotiations

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 28, 2007; 5:30 PM

President Bush pledged today to remain "actively engaged" in a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process and called for international support for the two sides' leaders as they pursue the difficult negotiations.

In a brief statement after meeting privately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Bush stood between the two men in the White House Rose Garden and declared: "I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't believe that peace was possible, and they wouldn't be here either if they didn't think peace was possible."

Bush held lengthy separate talks this morning and early afternoon with Abbas and Olmert in the Oval Office, then met with both men in a final session. All the meetings were closed to the news media.

The talks came a day after the Israeli and Palestinian leaders pledged to resume negotiations next month on a peace deal, with the aim of reaching an agreement by the end of 2008.

A joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration read by Bush at the opening of a one-day conference yesterday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis said the two sides would "engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations" starting Dec. 12, when a steering committee in charge of the talks is scheduled to convene. Abbas and Olmert "will continue to meet on a biweekly basis to follow up the negotiations," the joint statement said.

But the two leaders' speeches at the conference of more than 40 nations underscored the difficult compromises that will be needed to overcome bitter grievances that divide the two sides.

In a related development, the State Department today announced the appointment of retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO commander, to a new position advising Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on security issues connected to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

"In this new role, General Jones will advance our objective of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Rice said. "He will design and implement a new U.S. government plan for our security assistance to the Palestinian Authority and our security cooperation with the Israeli and Palestinian governments."

Jones will work with Army Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, "who will continue his mission of helping the Palestinian Authority to build and rationalize its security forces," Rice said. Dayton holds the title of U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Jones's new post would involve monitoring the development of Palestinian security services and facilitating their interaction with Israeli authorities.

Jones, 63, served as Marine Corps commandant before becoming NATO's supreme allied commander, a post he held from 2003 to 2006. He retired from the Marine Corps in February after 40 years of service.

After his meetings today with Olmert and Abbas, Bush said it is "very important for the international community to support these two leaders during the bilateral negotiations that will take place."

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