Bush urges Israel to take down W. Bank outposts

Says visit also aimed at restraining Iran's nuclear efforts; Ramon: Set timetable for outpost evictions.

Bush big face 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush big face 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush on Thursday urged Israel to honor its commitment to remove West Bank outposts. He also said one reason for his upcoming trip to the Middle East has to do with restraining Iran's nuclear efforts. Bush, in an interview with Reuters six days before his arrival here, said he expected to hear questions about the US National Intelligence Estimate that determined Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. "I will clarify to them that the NIE means that Iran is still a danger," Bush said. "I will remind them that a country that can suspend a program can easily start a program." In addition to Israel, which on Wednesday will be the first stop on Bush's weeklong tour, he will visit the Palestinian Authority, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Israel officials have said that although Bush's talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas would focus on the diplomatic process that began in Annapolis in November, and explore ways to move it forward, his talks with Olmert would also concentrate on Iran. Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon said Friday he believes that during the presidential visit "real steps" will be undertaken to "initiate" a process of evacuating illegal outposts from the West Bank. "Most of the public does not support the annexation of territories east of the fence, which would bring about an end to Israel as a Jewish democratic state," said Ramon. Regarding the diplomatic process, Bush told Reuters that settlement expansion was an "impediment" to the diplomatic efforts. "I will talk about Israeli settlement expansion, about how that is, that can be, you know, an impediment to success," he said. "The unauthorized outposts, for example, need to be dismantled, like the Israelis said they would do." In an interview with Yediot Aharonot, Bush - in an excerpt that appeared on Thursday - said he would not "allow the creation of a terrorist state on Israel's border." Meanwhile Thursday, Olmert flew to Aqaba for an unannounced visit with Jordan's King Abdullah II, their first meeting since July in Petra. Abdullah met Tuesday with Abbas. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said the Aqaba meeting was previously planned and was part of an ongoing dialogue on the strategic issues facing the two countries. "We attach great importance to the relationship with Jordan, and try to have regular dialogue with it at the highest level in order to share ideas," the official said. The leaders first met with advisers present and then held a private meeting. According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office, the two leaders discussed bilateral relations, the diplomatic process and Bush's upcoming visit. The statement said Olmert updated Abdullah on the rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and "reiterated the urgent need for the Palestinians to prepare to fight terrorism and dismantle its infrastructures." Olmert also "stressed Israel's commitment not to establish new settlements and to refrain from expropriating new land in Judea and Samaria." In a related development, the Prime Minister's Office had no response Thursday to Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's claim in a Lebanese television interview that he was willing to negotiate the return to Israel of the remains of several soldiers killed during the Second Lebanon War. He made no mention of kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Nasrallah said that negotiations with Israel were taking place, but progressing slowly. One Israeli government official said Nasrallah was "proposing that we bargain in body parts. This is disgusting, despicable and deplorable, and should be condemned by every civilized human being." Another official said that it seemed Nasrallah was signaling to Israel that he was still "alive and kicking" and that while the focus of late has been on a possible release of Palestinian security prisoners in return for Cpl. Gilad Schalit, held in the Gaza Strip - he should not be forgotten. The vast majority of the two-hour interview, however, dealt with the internal Lebanese situation, also an apparent attempt by Nasrallah to quell rumors that he has been pushed aside, and to show that he is still a force to be reckoned with. He warned that there would be no end to the presidential crisis in Lebanon unless the Syrian-back opposition there received veto power in the government.