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Bush: U.S. would aid Israel if attacked

Talks between U.S., Israel leaders focus on borders, Iran, Hamas

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Ehud Olmert

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Tuesday that the United States would come to Israel's aid if it were attacked by Iran and welcomed the Jewish state's plan to define its borders.

He made the comments at the White House during a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after a meeting between the two leaders. It was Olmert's first official visit to the United States as prime minister.

Bush also praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and called on the Hamas-led Palestinian government to meet international demands.

Israeli officials have joined the United States in voicing outrage over Iran's moves to enrich uranium, which could be used to build nuclear weapons, in light of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent calls for the destruction of Israel. (Watch Bush and Olmert warn Iran -- 1:34)

Iran's leaders have insisted that they are pursuing a nuclear program solely for peaceful purposes, a claim challenged by the United States and much of the international community.

"The prime minister and I shared our concerns about the Iranian regime's nuclear weapons ambitions," Bush said. "The United States and the international community have made our common position clear: We're determined that the Iranian regime must not gain nuclear weapons.

"I told the prime minister what I've stated publicly before: Israel is a close friend and ally of the United States. And in the event of any attack on Israel, the United States will come to Israel's aid," Bush said.

The president added, "We're on the cusp of going to the [U.N.] Security Council" on the issue.

Olmert, who is to address Congress on Wednesday, said there will be no peace with the Hamas-led Palestinian government unless it accepts Israel's right to exist, ends terrorism against Israel and honors previous agreements between between Israel and the Palestinians.

Until Hamas won parliamentary elections in January, Fatah was the dominant force in Palestinian politics. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel.

Olmert said he plans to meet with Abbas "in the near future," and called him "genuine and sincere" in his desire for a peace accord.

However, Olmert recently dismissed Abbas -- a member of the ousted Fatah Party -- in a CNN interview as "powerless" and unable to "seriously negotiate with Israel."

Bush had words of praise for the Palestinian leader.

"Abbas favors and speaks out for peace and negotiations, yet the Hamas-led Palestinian government does not," he said.

Olmert said Tuesday that Israel is unwilling to wait "indefinitely" for the Palestinians to change. "If we come to the conclusion that no progress is possible, we will be compelled to try a different route," he said.

Redrawing the borders

Israel is determined, he said, to define its borders in the next three or four years -- with or without Palestinian help.

Under one option, Israel would remove most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The major population centers of Samaria and Judea would remain and eventually become part of Israel, he said.

Bush also praised Olmert's plan to withdraw from some settlements in the West Bank, saying the prime minister's "bold ideas" could be "an important step toward the peace we both support."

A unilateral redrawing of the border would not be the preferred route, Bush said, adding that he and Olmert agree "a negotiated final status agreement best serves both the Israelis and the Palestinians and the cause of peace."

In an attempt to further isolate Hamas, the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a resolution 361-37 that would bar all dealings with Hamas -- including restrictions on private aid money to Palestinians. (Full story)

The House resolution also would deny U.S. visas to any members of the Palestinian Authority.

The White House already has cut off funds for the Hamas-led government until it recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounces acts of terrorism.

"No country can be expected to make peace with those who deny its right to exist and who use terror to attack its population," Bush said Tuesday.

The White House has said it will increase humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, and Olmert said Tuesday that Israel will spend about $11 million to provide medical equipment and drugs for the Palestinian people.

"We will spend any amount of money needed in order to save the lives of innocent Palestinians suffering from the indifference of their government," he said.

On Monday the Israeli prime minister met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Tuesday, before the White House visit, with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Olmert, a former Jerusalem mayor, took over as acting prime minister when his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, suffered a massive stroke in early January, and their Kadima party went on to win parliamentary elections in March.

Sharon is still on life support. The Israeli Cabinet on April 12 declared Sharon permanently incapacitated.

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