US Sen. John McCain expressed cautious optimism about the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians when he met with President Shimon Peres on Saturday night.

The meeting came after the former Republican presidential candidate for 2008 met with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership while leading a delegation of Republican members of Congress on a tour of the region.

“We have room for guarded optimism, and we’re appreciative of the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry,” McCain told Peres. After speaking to both sides and to Kerry himself, the senator said that he saw “a willingness that has not been there in abundance in the past.”

In welcoming McCain and his delegation, Peres said that Kerry was not giving up on trying to bring the ship to shore.

“It’s a time of decision, and all decisions are tough,” Peres said, “but a decision on peace is better than no decision.”

Acknowledging the difficulties, Peres said that “the situation with the Palestinians is complicated for them and for us,” but that he believed that in spite of everything, peace was possible.

He said he was convinced that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in his heart, wanted peace, “but he’s not a free agent.”

Turning the conversation to ongoing changes in the Middle East, Peres declared that “terror is the greatest danger for the Arab world, dividing every country.”

He listed Arab countries that had been caught in the turmoil of terrorism, and emphasized that the rifts in these countries had nothing to do with Israel.

He said he was certain, however, that if Israel and the Palestinians could resolve their conflict, Israel could be of help to the Palestinians and by extension to the rest of the Arab world in dealing with the problem of terrorism.

Peres also noted that terrorism had become pervasive in Russia, which he opined to be better equipped than some Middle Eastern countries to fight against terrorism.

Peres charged Iran with funding terrorist activity, and said that it was something to which the world was not paying sufficient attention, just as it was not paying sufficient attention to Iran’s production of nuclear missiles.

McCain said he shared Israel’s concerns about Iran and was also worried about Syria.

But McCain said he was even more troubled by the news that al-Qaida had taken over Falluja. McCain said that a lot of American blood had been spilled in Iraq, and that America’s failure to leave a residual force there had been a great mistake.

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