President Bush said Friday that he would return to the Mideast in May to continue pressing for a peace agreement, saying Israel and the Palestinians need to "make difficult choices" if a deal is to be reached before he leaves office.
"There's a good chance for peace and I want to help you," Bush said, flanked by 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.
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 November's U.S.-hosted talks in Annapolis, Md.
The White House has been pushing for a Middle East peace agreement in the next 12 months in hopes of bolstering the Bush administration's strained legacy on foreign policy.
During his two days of formal talks with Olmert, Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Bush laid out U.S. expectations, saying that the two sides needed to move quickly. On his way to visit Sunni Arab allies, Bush said he 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."
He had closed his round of talks on Thursday with a stern summation of benchmarks that needed to be achieved to establish peace in the region.
Bush urged Israel to end its 40-year occupation of the West Bank and said a Palestinian state should be contiguous, a nod to Palestinian opposition to a state broken into pieces by Israeli settlements and military installations.
At the same time, Bush came out on Israel's side on two important issues, implying that major Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank should remain in Israeli hands in a final peace deal and that Palestinian refugees should not be resettled inside of Israel.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press