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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush said Saturday that peace in the Middle East requires "hard choices and real leadership" by Israelis, Palestinians and their Arab neighbors. The White House was cool to former President Clinton's offer to play a role in peacemaking.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., urged Bush to take up Clinton's overture. "I think his advice would be invaluable," said Specter, who met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat three weeks ago.

But Bush will stay the course he has charted, a White House spokeswoman said.

"The president has outlined a clear blueprint for the pathway to peace in the Middle East," and the administration has made progress, Claire Buchan said. "We and the international community are focused on bringing the parties together."

After defending Israel last week, and later expressing sympathy for the plight of Palestinians, Bush used his weekly radio address to make an evenhanded demand on all players in the Mideast.

"The time is now for all of us to make the choice for peace," he said.

"All parties must realize that the only long-term solution is for two states - Israel and Palestine - to live side by side in security and peace," the president said.

"This will require hard choices and real leadership by Israelis and Palestinians and their Arab neighbors."

He urged Israel to continue withdrawing from Palestinian territory, but did not repeat his demand earlier this month that it do so "without delay." Nor did he identify any specific timetable.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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