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Bush says Annapolis path will be difficult
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08:51, November 28, 2007

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US President George W. Bush told Israeli and Palestinian leaders gathered for a Middle East conference yesterday that the time was right to work toward peace but cautioned the path would be difficult.

Bush held a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shortly before opening a high-stakes conference that includes diplomats from more than 40 countries, including Syria and Saudi Arabia.

"The time is right, the cause is just, and with hard effort, I know they can succeed," Bush said in remarks prepared for delivery to the day-long conference at the US Naval Academy.

He planned to say the purpose at Annapolis was not to conclude an accord, but instead to launch negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"The task begun here at Annapolis will be difficult," Bush said in the remarks released in advance by the White House. "This is the beginning of the process, not the end of it, and much work remains to be done."

Finally embracing a hands-on approach he disdained after his predecessor Bill Clinton failed to broker a deal in the twilight of his presidency, Bush is hosting the most ambitious round of international Middle East diplomacy in seven years.

The talks are aimed at jump-starting negotiations for creating a Palestinian state.

But no-one expects a swift breakthrough between the two sides. Olmert is politically weak at home and the Palestinians are deeply divided between those loyal to Abbas and those supporting Hamas, who violently oppose the talks.

With only 14 months left in office, Bush has faced criticism for not having done more sooner on the effort, and it was unclear how hard he will push the parties to make compromises.

In his speech, he argued now is the time to pursue an agreement because Palestinians and Israelis have leaders determined to achieve peace and because "we must not cede victory to the extremists" in the Middle East.

Bush signaled the United States would not try to impose an agreement on the parties, saying "our job is to encourage the parties in this effort - and to give them the support they need to succeed."

All three leaders begin the effort politically weakened at home. In Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas Islamists who oppose the meeting, tens of thousands joined an anti-Annapolis rally chanting "Abbas is a traitor" and "Death to Israel, death to America."

Source: China Daily/Agencies

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