US President George Bush pointing the way
US President George Bush pointing the wayfile photo

United States President George W. Bush called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert an honest man and labeled Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as an authentic peace partner. He also said a Palestinian state is a necessity for Israel's

Bush said Prime Minister Olmert is "an honest guy" who is easy to talk to.

existence. Bush was speaking with Israeli reporters in Washington on Monday, ahead of his trip to the Middle East May 13 through May 18.

The US President is coming to Israel Wednesday morning. He also will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt, ending his tour at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Sharm Al-Sheikh, in the Sinai Peninsula. Twelve heads of state will be attending the WEF, along with dozens of ministers and other economic leaders.

In his comments to the Israeli press, Bush said Prime Minister Olmert is "an honest guy" who is easy to talk to. He avoided questions about Olmert's alleged involvement in a campaign financing scandal, which was revealed to the public last week. Bush characterized his own relationship with Olmert as "excellent."

The president expressed confidence in PA Chairman Abbas as well, describing him as a partner for peace. When asked if he believed Abbas would be willing to give up the Arab demand for the "right of return" to Israel of millions of foreign Arabs, Bush replied that it would depend on how badly Abbas wanted a sovereign state.

President Bush called the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state "an important notion for Israel's very existence," adding that he believes there is now "a chance to get something defined."

At the same time, Bush was clearly aware that both Olmert and Abbas were not in the most stable of positions politically, emphasizing that the Middle East peace process he has backed as President is not dependent on one man. He mentioned the names of Foreign Minster Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, chairman of the Labor party, as other key Israeli leaders.

"This is not an Olmert plan," Bush said. "This is a plan of a government," but he did not specify to which plan he was

Bush further insisted that he was not coming to Israel with demands.

referring. Bush further insisted that he was not coming to Israel with demands, but rather as "somebody who encourages" and uses "the influence of the United States to move the [PA-Israel negotiation] process along."

As for potential negotiations the US opposes, those with Syria, President Bush said he'd be waiting to hear an "explanation" from his Israeli counterpart as to the status of Syria-Israel relations.

In a separate statement on the pro-Syria Hizbullah organization's attempt to take over the streets and government of Lebanon, President Bush said, "I strongly condemn Hizbullah's recent efforts, and those of their foreign sponsors in Tehran and Damascus, to use violence and intimidation to bend the government and people of Lebanon to their will."