WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush plans to engage in a three-way summit in Jordan next week with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the White House announced Wednesday.
Despite recent setbacks to the peace process, Bush hopes to "focus on moving forward," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in announcing the planned meeting.
McClellan said that Bush would also go separately to Egypt next week to meet with Arab leaders, and to Qatar, headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, to meet with U.S. troops.
The meeting with Sharon and Abbas will occur in the Jordanian Red Sea port city of Aqaba, McClellan said.
He said PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat will not be invited.
McClellan said Bush will go to the Middle East next Tuesday, immediately after the conclusion of the Group of Eight summit of major industrial democracies in Evian, France.
He will first go to Sharm el-Sheik, an Egyptian resort, to meet with Arab leaders. On Wednesday, June 4, he will go to Aqaba to meet with Jordanian King Abdullah and, "conditions permitting," meet with both Abbas and Sharon.
Although the trip to the Mideast had been widely discussed, and parts of it announced in the region, it was the first time the White House has publicly outlined the president's schedule.
The announcement came after momentum in Middle East peacemaking slowed as Arafat reasserted his position as the chief Palestinian negotiator with the Israelis.
The Palestinians postponed a meeting between Abbas and Sharon that had been scheduled for Wednesday, saying Abbas wanted to consult with Arafat.
But despite Arafat's efforts to claim a role at the peace table, McClellan said Bush still intended to meet in Jordan with Abbas and Sharon, both separately and then in a three-way meeting.
"We fully expect the meeting to take place," McClellan said.
"The president very much looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Abbas for the first time as well as meeting with Prime Minister Sharon again," the presidential spokesman said.
"Mr. Abbas is committed to reforms and moving the process forward as well as cracking down on terrorists," McClellan added.
While optimistic that such a meeting will take place, McClellan also cautioned that, "We want to make sure the environment is ripe for productive talks."
While the administration tried to minimize the postponement of the Abbas-Sharon meeting as merely technical, Arafat told the PLO's executive committee that he wanted to review security proposals before Abbas met again with Sharon.
The move by Arafat supported a worldwide perception that Arafat - no matter how hard the Bush administration tries to marginalize him - is the paramount leader of the Palestinians.
McClellan said the president expected to meet with the two leaders, but he cautioned that the talks would occur only if the environment is conducive to moving the internationally brokered "roadmap" for peace forward.
Bush will wrap up his trip on June 5 by visiting U.S. troops in Doha, Qatar, the forward U.S. command post from where the Iraq war was managed.
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