US President George W. Bush looked very much at ease during a welcome ceremony for him at Beit Hanassi on Wednesday. He then joined President Shimon Peres, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and other key figures in a preliminary working meeting in which they all participated, after which Bush and Peres were left alone. Their discussion included concerns about the nuclear threat from Iran, the dangers of Muslim extremism, the need to provide jobs and a higher standard of living for the Palestinians, the proposed establishment of the Peace Valley along the Israeli-Jordanian border and its industrial parks with the significant cooperation of Jordan, and the importance of implementing the road map. Without the implementation of the road map, there could be no peace, said Bush, adding that he had come to the region with "high hopes." "I come with high hopes," Bush said. "And the role of the United States will be to foster a vision of peace. The role of the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership is going to do the hard work necessary to define a vision." The president acknowledged the complexity of the task ahead for Israel. "You know, politics can be rough sometimes, just like the politics of America can be rough," Bush said. "But nevertheless, we share a common vision of peace." Though the topics they discussed were extremely serious, there were a lot of jokes and laughter in the room, according to a Beit Hanassi spokeswoman.In the hour that he spent talking to Peres, Bush received what may have been one of his most in-depth briefings on the situation in the region in general, the peace process in particular and Israel's apprehensiAons about Iran. Peres not only talked about the issues, but also produced maps, the spokeswoman said. Over the past week, he consulted with Israeli intelligence experts and senior air force personnel over Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Peres warned of the dangers of nuclear power in the wrong hands, saying that a nuclear Middle East must not be allowed to emerge, especially if nuclear capability were to come into the hands of terrorists. Bush said that he could understand Israel's anxieties on this score and repeated what he had prior to leaving for the Middle East: "Iran was a threat, Iran is a threat and Iran will be a threat," he declared. As for the peace process, Bush pledged to work very hard during his visit and to try to bridge differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Aware of the anti-Israel incitement coming from some parts of the Palestinian camp, Bush said: "The best way to defeat the ideology of hate is with the ideology of hope." "Annapolis gave us a year in which to make progress, and time is so precious," said Peres, optimistically adding: "It may be the best year for peace." AP contributed to this report.