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Bush on Mideast: 'We refuse to be discouraged'

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, right, speaks to reporters Thursday as Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher listens.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, right, speaks to reporters Thursday as Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher listens.  

From Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush emerged from his Oval Office meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell and three Middle East foreign ministers Thursday and said he was even more determined now to move his Middle East peace initiative forward.

Bush also reacted to Wednesday's back-to-back suicide bombings in Israel.

"I am beginning to think that every time we have a high-level meeting something happens and it's not coincidental," Bush said after the meeting with Powell and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

"I think the enemies of peace try to send signals, try to derail peace and try to discourage us, and one of the things I am going to tell the leaders today is we refuse to be discouraged," Bush said.

The 30-minute closed-door meeting focused on Palestinian reform, the urgent need for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, and a plan from Powell and CIA Director George Tenet to restructure the Palestinian security forces.

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Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said he and his counterparts were pleased at the outcome. "We are very moved by his tenacity and insistence," he said of Bush.

The most striking thing about this meeting, however, was what was not mentioned: the role of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. For two consecutive days Bush has pointed out Arafat's failings and called for different leadership, but he has done so seeking not to isolate America's Arab allies.

The president went into the meeting saying, "the issue is bigger than any single person, and our discussion will center on how to have institutions in place that will truly represent the will of the Palestinian people, that will give confidence to the world that we can spend money in a way that helps the Palestinians."

Jordan's foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, left the meeting seemingly nonplused that Arafat was not the focus.

"I don't think that any elected leader can be shut out of the process, but this has not been a matter of discussion or a matter of contention during our meeting today," he said.

Saudi officials have complained in the past that shortly after sit-downs with Bush and his surrogates, the U.S. administration returns to a more pro-Israeli position. This perception has led some Arabs involved in the peace negotiations to question the White House's credibility, particularly when it comes to holding Israel responsible for making concessions.

But when asked on the North Lawn of the White House whether Bush could be taken at his word, al-Faisal insisted he could.

"We take what the president says to us seriously," he said. "When he says that they will bear their responsibility to the full extent, when he says that the Palestinians and the Israelis are equally responsible for the pursuit of peace and for the actions that lead to the pursuit of peace, we believe the president."




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