Bush Sees 'Signed Peace Treaty' for Mideast
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe it's possible - not only possible, I believe it's going to happen, if there'll be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office.
MONTAGNE: That was President Bush on his trip to the Middle East. Many people are skeptical that he can make great strides towards peace, although the president isn't. In a moment, we'll hear how the Arab media are covering this visit.
We begin with NPR's Michele Kelemen on a bus in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Hi. How are you?
MONTAGNE: As we've just heard, President Bush said a Mideast peace treaty will be completed by the time he leaves office. That's a pretty bold prediction.
KELEMEN: It was a bold prediction, and he was quite optimistic throughout this news conference today with President Mahmoud Abbas. I mean, part of this was really to boost Abbas, who is a weak leader here in the West Bank and doesn't control Gaza, which is the other part of the Palestinian territories now controlled by Hamas, which the U.S. and Israel considers a terrorists organization.
So this was really a time to show that the Abbas way, the negotiation way is the way for Palestinians to get a Palestinian state. And we heard a lot of optimism despite all the skepticism in the region that Mr. Bush said that a Palestinian state will emerge. He is confident that when it does, it will be a major step toward peace. And he said the status quo is unacceptable.
MONTAGNE: Now, I gather there was heavy fog there today so that - Mr. Bush had to travel by land from Israel to the West Bank. What would he have seen on that journey, if he was looking out the window?
KELEMEN: Well, he was supposed to come by helicopter and instead he did go by this motorcade - the same route that we took in here. You actually pass, you know, the concrete wall that's part of this barrier that Israel is building in and around the West Bank. You pass Israeli checkpoints, Israeli settlements and even - heard of a bunch of trailers that a new outpost that - the kind of outpost that President Bush said have to go. That was a comment that he made yesterday when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
MONTAGNE: And in Israel, there's a lot of fondness for what they call their great friend, President Bush. He's forged a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
KELEMEN: That's right. I mean, even today with Abbas, the president seemed that he's - and they seem to have a good rapport, but nothing like Olmert where - who was phrasing Bush, even to the point where President Bush looked quite embarrassed yesterday. But Olmert welcomed Mr. Bush as a trusted ally and a confidant. The two have a strong relationship over the past couple of years.
MONTAGNE: What, though, about Mahmoud Abbas - he did say that President Bush's visit gives - I'm quoting here - "gives our people great hope." But if the Palestinians perceive the U.S. as a staunch ally of Israel, as many do, is there a sense that he can actually be an architect of a breakthrough of any kind?
KELEMEN: Well, there's lot of skepticism about that here, for sure, but you did hear him talking and saying the right words today, saying that an eventual Palestinian state can't (unintelligible) with cheese and has to be continuous. That he understands the concerns about Israeli settlements and even said that he's made clear to Israel that it shouldn't hinder the Palestinian efforts to build up its security forces. So there were some strong signals to the Palestinians that President Bush brought with him today.
MONTAGNE: And where to from here, Michele?
KELEMEN: The president has more meetings with the Palestinians, and he is planning to visit Bethlehem to go to the church in the nativity before returning to Jerusalem tonight.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.
NPR's Michele Kelemen traveling with the president on the West Bank.
KELEMEN: Thank you.
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