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Bush says he sees chance for Mideast peace

From John King

Bush is flanked by Sharon, left, and Abbas at the peace talks Wednesday.
Bush is flanked by Sharon, left, and Abbas at the peace talks Wednesday.

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CNN's John King reports on the Mideast peace summit in Aqaba, Jordan.
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Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the summit.
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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaks at the summit.
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ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday he believes there is an opening to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal because both sides are "sick and tired of death."

The president said it is critical the Palestinians and Israelis build much-needed trust by acting quickly on promises at Wednesday's summit in Jordan.

"The trust is going to come from performance," Bush said during a 40-minute conversation with reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Doha, Qatar, the final stop of his weeklong overseas trip.

Bush said he took pains to assure Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that he would never do anything to undermine Israel's security.

"I assured him that security is at the top of our agenda, just like it is at the top of his agenda," Bush said. "I also told him he's got responsibilities."

Asked about Sharon's promise to remove unauthorized settlement outposts, Bush said, "He said he would dismantle them. We now expect him to dismantle them."

The Bush administration has sought to elevate the status of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas among his own people -- to answer critics who say he does not have the political sway of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Bush said Sharon's participation at the summit was one way to show that Abbas was the Palestinian leader who can deliver statehood.

"The fact that he showed up means that Prime Minister Abbas can deliver, and therefore we've got to work together to help the prime minister achieve his objectives."

Bush said he told Abbas that the United States, European nations and Arab neighbors were prepared to offer extensive political and economic assistance.

"There is plenty of help coming," Bush said he told the Palestinian prime minister.

Bush said he envisioned his Mideast role in the weeks ahead as someone "to call people to account," intervening when the parties were not keeping pace with their promises.

"I used the expression 'ride herd.' I don't know if anybody understood in the meeting today."

Discussing his personal style, Bush said he made the most progress in informal settings -- both with Arab leaders in Egypt and at the Aqaba summit.

"I'm not a very formal guy to begin with," he told reporters. "One of my strengths is to relax people."

Bush also said he recognized U.S. leaders before him had optimistic moments, only to see the process collapse back into violence and mistrust.

"I don't fault past presidents for trying and failing," Bush said. "You've got to try."

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