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Mideast Peace Talks Underway

Officials from more than forty nations gathered in Annapolis, Maryland, to launch the first Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in seven years.

The goal of the conference, says President George W. Bush, was not to conclude an agreement, but to launch negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Another goal was to gain support from Arab countries and others for the peace process. Sixteen Arab nations attended, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.

But the ultimate goal of the negotiations, says President Bush, is "two democratic states -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace and security":

"Achieving this goal requires difficult compromises -- and the Israelis and Palestinians have elected leaders committed to making them. Achieving this goal requires neighbors committed to peace between Israel and a new Palestinian state. Achieving this goal requires the commitment of the international community, including the United States. . . .To all those in the Middle East who wish to live in freedom and peace: we stand with you, at the Annapolis conference and beyond."

President Bush says the time is right to launch peace talks because "a battle is underway for the future of the Middle East":

"The extremists and terrorists want our efforts to fail. They're working actively to undermine every effort as we try to achieve peace and reconciliation. We offer a more hopeful vision -- of a Middle East growing in freedom and dignity and prosperity."

"Today," said Mr. Bush, "Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is the key to realizing their own, and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state. Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom, purpose, and dignity. And such a state will help provide Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors."