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U.S. cannot impose vision on Mideast, Bush says

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  • NEW: Bush says U.S. would support Israel if attacked by Iran
  • Bush says a Palestinian state is best way to defeat terrorist elements
  • President Bush said he would "facilitate" Israeli-Palestinian negotiations
  • U.S. imposing vision on Mideast is "unrealistic," Bush says
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday told CNN he would personally "facilitate" peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, saying the formation of a democratic Palestinian state was the best way to bring peace to the region.

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President Bush says he would "facilitate" negotiations but not travel to the Middle East.

"A democracy on Israel's border is important for Israel's security and that very democracy is important for the Palestinians to have a hopeful life," Bush said. "It is also important for the broader Middle East."

Bush's comments come a day after a summit at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in which Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed on a framework for future peace talks. The sides set the end of 2008 as a goal for completing a peace treaty.

Bush made the comments during an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Video Watch Blitzer's one-on-one with Bush »

The framework for negotiations was agreed to by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Abbas is currently in a bitter power struggle with Hamas for control of Palestinian territory. Hamas, which currently controls Gaza, opposed negotiations and supports continued armed resistance against Israel.

Hamas, which the United States and Israel label a terrorist group, won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, ousting the long-ruling Fatah party that Abbas heads.

Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led government earlier this year after Hamas forces seized control of Gaza.

When asked whether the peace process can overcome opposition from Hamas, Bush said "the best way to defeat those terrorists and radicals ... is through a vision based upon liberty."

"Ultimately, if this can be done, if the state can be laid out -- what the state should look like -- then it gives people like President Abbas the chance to go to the Palestinians and say, 'You can have their vision of violence or this vision of peace, take your pick.' "

"America can't impose our vision on the two parties," Bush said.

"If that happens, then there's not going to be a deal that will last."

When asked by Blitzer what he would do to advance the negotiations, Bush said "it depends on the circumstances." But, he said he thought a personal visit to the region would not further the peace process.

"It is working with the principals, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas -- that's how you get things done. Now if I have to call them together, I will."

Bush said the attendance of numerous Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, at Tuesday's summit was "quite an accomplishment."

Asked why Syria, which the United States accuses of funding terrorism, was invited to the conference Bush said other Arab nations requested it and that "We wanted to make sure as many Arab nations came as possible."

"We have our differences with Syria, no question about it."

When asked why Iran's leadership was not invited to the conference, Bush said "they would not be constructive" and "weren't going to come anyway" based on recent comments from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"This is a man who doesn't believe in democracy and freedom and peace," Bush said. "And this was a conference of people who are supportive of the idea of a democratic state living side by side with Israel."

Bush stood by his previous assertion that the United States would support Israel if it was attacked by Iran, but would not elaborate on what that support would entail.

On Wednesday, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators said they were optimistic that an agreement could be reached.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the two sides can "absolutely" fashion a peace deal by the end of next year.

However, he said, the deal must come in the form of a package that resolves at least six points: Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel, Jerusalem as the shared capital of a future Palestinian state, settling on borders, security and water supply.

Israel will add the condition that the conflict must end, Erakat said.

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Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev concurred with Erakat that the deal must come in package form. But he refrained from discussing specifics, saying only that Israel is willing to discuss all "sensitive and problematic issues."

He added, though, that there "are different ideas out there." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About IsraelMiddle East ConflictHamasMahmoud Abbas

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