Bush seeks Kuwaiti support for ME deal

Rice cautions against expecting a "blinding flash" of Arab backing for cooperation with Israel.

Bush kuwait 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush kuwait 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush turned Saturday from Mideast peacemaking to the Iraq war, hearing from his top advisers as he looks toward a new assessment that will be closely watched for whether more American troops can start coming home. Bush received a briefing from Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who is pressing Iraq's government to make progress on long-delayed political reconciliation. Petraeus and Crocker are due to give Congress a new update on the war in March. After their report in September, Bush announced he would withdraw some troops from Iraq by July - essentially the 30,000 sent as part of a buildup ordered a year ago - but still keep the US level there at about 130,000. Bush also was addressing troops while at Camp Arifjan. En route to Kuwait on Friday, the United States dampened hopes for swift agreement on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned against expecting a "blinding flash" of Arab backing for cooperation with Israel. Traveling with the president after two days of talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Rice said, "There will be a period of time, undoubtedly, in which the two sides continue to be very far apart." But, she said, "There is reason to be hopeful that they can make a major move to end the conflict." Bush will notify Congress on Monday of his intent to sell $20 billion in weapons, including precision-guided bombs, to Saudi Arabia, moving up the announcement to coincide with the president's arrival in Riyadh, a senior official told The Associated Press in Washington. The official announcement will kick off a 30-day review period during which Congress could try to block the sale, which has raised concern among some lawmakers. At a palace surrounded by palm trees, Bush met with the emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah. He told Bush he was delighted to have him in Kuwait. "We are equally delighted to see you working on issues that are very important to all of us here," Sheik Sabah said. It was not clear what issues he meant. Like other Gulf Arab nations, Kuwait is nervous about tensions between the United States and Iran, and uneasy with the rise of Teheran. Kuwaitis also fear sectarian violence in Iraq could spill over their border. Rice, traveling with the president on Air Force One, was asked whether Bush expected to get public statements of support from Arab leaders during this trip. "Some of this will happen over time," the secretary said, standing in the aisle of the press cabin on Bush's plane. "You know, there isn't going to be a blinding flash in any of this - not on this trip, not on the next trip. But this is a process that's moving forward." She said Arab states "took a big step" in coming to Annapolis. "And it was the first time that the Saudis were there under their own flag. ... I feel a strong sense of support from the Arab countries." Rice said Bush's trip, and his planned return to Israel in May, puts pressure on both sides to make difficult decisions about peacemaking. Acknowledging the uncertainty of the negotiations, Rice said that "it's probably not possible at this point to say where they're going to be in May, let alone where they're going to be next week." Before leaving Israel, Bush toured holy sites near the Sea of Galilee. "Amazing experience" to walk where Jesus lived and preached, the president said. White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush recalled passages in the early parts of the Book of Matthew about how Jesus calmed the Sea of Galilee. "He was reminded of how prayer helps him and has helped him calm rough seas in his life and certainly in the White House," she said.