Mubarak Seeks U.S. Involvement

President Bush assured Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday the United States will remain active in the Middle East peace process, but he stopped short of pledging the kind of personal mediation effort his predecessor undertook.

"We will use our prestige and influence as best we can to facilitate a peace," Mr. Bush said as he and Mubarak sat down for a meeting in the Oval Office. "We can't force a peace."

The Egyptian president has visited the White House every year since taking office 20 years ago, but his meeting Monday with President Bush had special urgency: He hoped to nudge the new administration into deeper engagement in the region.

Mr. Bush and Mubarak said they would do all they could to convince Palestinians and Israelis to stop the violence and work to bring peace to the Middle East.

At an Oval Office meeting with Mubarak -- the first Arab leader to visit the White House since Mr. Bush took office on Jan. 20 -- the president said the United States would stay engaged in the Middle East and try to convince parties to resume dialogue.

"We will work together to bring peace to the Middle East," said Mr. Bush, seated next to Mubarak. "And we'll work together to try to convince all parties involved to lay down their arms, so there will be less violence."

"The role for strong countries like ourselves and Egypt is to encourage, first, the violence to end; and, secondly, for discussions to begin again," Mr. Bush said. "And I'm very optimistic and hopeful that we'll be able to achieve that."

As the two presidents sat down to their meeting, gunfire and killings continued on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Mubarak, who added his voice to a growing number of Arab leaders urging Washington to stay involved in the Middle East, said he was looking forward to working with Mr. Bush.

"I think that President committed to work for peace," Mubarak said in response to a question about reports that Mr. Bush was distancing himself from the Middle East.

Various Middle Eastern countries, including Jordan and Turkey, have recently urged Mr. Bush to take a more active role in helping to bring about peace and said the United States could not afford to sit back and allow the Israelis and Palestinians to battle it out.

Jordan's King Abdullah said on Tuesday it was critical for President Bush to play a bigger role in trying to end the conflict. The king suggested in an interview with the Financial Times that a more backstage role by the U.S. could worsen the situation.

"I think it is imperative for a bigger umbrella -- the United States -- to play a bigger role to get the parties together," said Abdullah, who is to hold talks next week with Mr. Bush.

Mubarak said in an interview published over the weekend the United States could not be "hands off" regarding the Middle East and that Washington needed to work o narrow the gap between Israelis and Palestinians.

President Bush, who has not taken up the mantle of former President Clinton as an active mediator in the peace process, said most of his conversation with Mubarak dealt with the region.

"We will remain very actively engaged, and hopefully there will be positive results," he said, adding that Secretary of State Colin Powell had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Monday morning.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Sharon and Powell discussed the overall situation in the region and the steps needed for a return to calm and for the parties to get back on track with direct discussions.

President Bush has said he would not try to force a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, but wants the parties to work through their differences themselves.

Both men stressed that they would not impose any solutions on the Palestinians or Israelis, but would help bring them together to negotiate a settlement.

"We are not going to impose any solution on the parties, we are going to facilitate the situation so they can sit together, negotiate and we will help them reach a final conclusion for peace," Mubarak said.

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