Bush: Plenty of time for deal this year

An optimistic president says peace process "always has two steps forward and one step back."

Bush best 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush best 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
With only 10 months left in his term and Israeli-Palestinian peace at a standstill over renewed violence, US President George W. Bush said Tuesday there is "plenty of time" to get a Mideast peace deal before he leaves office. "This is a process that always has two steps forward and one step back," Bush said after meeting at the White House with Jordan's King Abdullah II. "We just need to make sure that it's just one step back." The IDF's weekend offensive in Gaza prompted the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank to suspend peace talks. But, said Bush, "Ten months is a long time. It's plenty of time to get a deal done." He noted that Rice was pushing the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to resume talks. "I am optimistic that they can conclude tough negotiations," he said. "I'm still as optimistic as I was after Annapolis," the site of a US-backed international Mideast peace conference in the state of Maryland late last year. Bush, noting his typical opposition to timetables, said he remains firm on getting a peace deal done: "There happens to be a timetable, as far as I'm concerned, and that is I am leaving office." The president's term ends on January 20, 2009. Referring to US Secrretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to the region, Bush said: "She's making our views known that we expect these leaders to step up and make hard decisions. Bush lauded Abdullah, saying "The United States has no stronger friend in the Middle East than Jordan." In turn, Abdullah hailed Bush's commitment to the peace process. "The words and discussions that we've had this morning will have, I think, a very great response back in our part of the world," Abdullah said. Bush also addressed the political uncertainty in Lebanon, where his administration blames Syria for violent interference. "I am extremely disappointed that the Syrian leader continues to make it harder for the Saniora government to succeed," Bush said. "And I really don't appreciate the fact that they've made it hard for this government to elect a president." After their meeting and remarks to reporters, Bush and Abdullah joined first lady Laura Bush and Queen Rania of Jordan for a private lunch in the family dining room of the White House residence.