White House Opposes Meetings in Middle East

Article excerpt

Byline: Jon Ward, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The White House yesterday confirmed that it has opposed a meeting between President Bush and Israeli and Palestinian leaders next week in Egypt, and said the peace process can go forward even if Israel's prime minister is ousted from office.

Experts on the Middle East, meanwhile, predicted little to no progress on the peace process during Mr. Bush's trip to the region, and said that the Bush administration should expect little cooperation from Saudi Arabia on increasing oil production.

National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters that next week "did not seem the time for a big high-level, three-way event with the president and [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]."

"It just doesn't feel right as the best way to advance the negotiations," Mr. Hadley said.

Mr. Bush is visiting Israel to celebrate the Jewish state's 60th anniversary, and then will travel to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reportedly had been pushing for Mr. Bush, Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas to meet in Egypt. However, Mr. Olmert, who appears on the verge of being indicted in connection with a corruption probe, could be forced to resign.

Mr. Hadley said peace talks that began last fall with the U.S. backing will continue.

"[Mr. Olmert] has obviously been a very important part of these peace negotiations," he said. "But again, remember, these are negotiations going on between the government of Israel and the Palestinian administration . …