Egypt's President Offers U.S. Help on Mideast Deal
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President Bush made a brief stop today in Egypt, his last on a weeklong tour of the Middle East. He promised to return and said that he would stay committed to the Arab-Israeli peace process.
NPR's Michele Kelemen has been travelling with the president and she filed this report about the past week's events - a mixture of pump and policy.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Egypt has historically been a key player in the Middle East peace process, so when Mr. Bush sat down with President Hosni Mubarak on a glorious day in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominated the agenda.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm optimistic an agreement can be reached. And the reason I am is because I believe the leadership in Israel and the leadership of the Palestinians is committed to a two-state solution. And I know nations in the neighborhood are willing to help.
KELEMEN: He spent eight days in the neighborhood trying to get Arab states to reach out to Israel and to help Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. President Bush was also in Gulf states talking about the high price of oil and the threats emanating from Iran. But mainly, this was a trip about shoring up alliances. He spent more time than usual touring cultural sites, sitting down for tea and lavished dinners with kings and sheikhs. He stayed at King Abdullah's ranch in Saudi Arabia and checked out the king's price-winning horses.
Pres. BUSH: He's looking at you, your majesty, it's as if he's paying attention to you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KELEMEN: The rulers in the United Arab Emirates showed off their hunting falcons and the president seemed to have fun taking it all in.
(Soundbite of children singing)
KELEMEN: On his stop in Dubai, the president even tried out a word of Arabic, saying shukran, or thank you, to the young girls who serenaded him in flowing pink and blue robes. He repeated his calls for reforms in the Middle East, but was fairly soft, at least in public, on Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He also seemed quite taken by the oil-driven building booms in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Pres. Bush: We're here working to embrace the opportunities for a modern, global economy. And doing - and in doing so, are not abandoning the traditions of the cultures or their faith.
KELEMEN: In many ways, it felt like a trip that should have been made much earlier in Mr. Bush's presidency, before the Iraq war made him so unpopular here, and we he had more time to help solve a central issue on the minds of many in the region - the Arab-Israeli conflict. He said he had to explain to leaders on this trip why he's so optimistic at this point.
Pres. BUSH: It's a wonder whether or not the American president - when he says something, whether he actually means it. When I say I'm coming back to stay engaged, I mean it. And when I say I'm optimistic we can get a deal done, I mean what I'm saying.
KELEMEN: His aides say, in his waning months of office, this is a good time to really push for peace because he's not running for office and not worried as much about politics. But many people in the region have serious doubts and are thinking ahead. Even the president's aides say they got questions from their hosts about the U.S. primaries and which president they might be dealing with next.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Sharma El Sheikh, Egypt.
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