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Sharon, Bush to meet in U.S.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will travel to the United States later this month to meet with President Bush, Israeli diplomatic sources said Thursday.

Sharon will head to the United States on May 18 and will meet with Bush May 20 to discuss the newly released "road map" for Middle East peace, the sources said.

Sharon's visit will follow a trip to the Mideast by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is to leave Friday evening. He is scheduled to discuss the road map with Sharon in Israel and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

In a meeting Thursday with the emir of Qatar, President Bush said Sharon's visit is a sign of his optimism about the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

"The reason we're going to make progress is that the Palestinian Authority has now got a leader in the prime minister who has renounced violence and (has) said he wants to work with us to make the area more secure," Bush said.

Bush said Abbas "understands what we know -- that a peace process will proceed if and when there is a concerted effort to fight violence."

In another positive sign for Middle East peace, Sharon said in an taped interview on Israeli TV that he is ready for peace talks with Syria.

"I am ready to hold negotiations with any Arab nation, including Syria, without preconditions. ... The Syrians will of course have demands on us and we will have for sure demands on them. We are ready to sit and discuss these issues," he said.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria broke down in 2000 over the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in southwest Syria that Israel captured during the 1967 Six-Day War and has since annexed.

As for Powell, he will meet with Arab leaders in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia during his trip, a State Department official said. He will then travel to Europe for stops in Russia, Bulgaria and Germany before heading back to Washington on May 16.

State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel contributed to this report

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