Bush cautiously welcomes Olmert's West Bank plan
At a news conference, Bush also repeated a pledge to come to Israel's aid if it was attacked.india Updated: May 24, 2006 11:02 IST
President George W Bush cautiously embraced what he called Israeli leader Ehud Olmert's "bold ideas" for the future of the West Bank but said talks with the Palestinians were preferable to unilateral moves.
The president's comments, after a White House summit with Olmert, opened the door for the prime minister to lay the groundwork for his plan to redraw the Jewish settlement map in the occupied territory with or without Palestinian agreement.
At a news conference, Bush also repeated a pledge to come to Israel's aid if it was attacked, a promise Israeli commentators have termed a subtle warning not to take military action against arch-enemy Iran in the current nuclear crisis.
Olmert won a March election, calling for the removal of remote Jewish settlements in the West Bank while keeping larger enclaves and imposing a border if peace efforts remain frozen.
Palestinians, now under a government led by the Islamic militant group Hamas, have condemned the plan, saying it would deny them a viable state.
"Today, Prime Minister Olmert shared with me some of his ideas. I would call them bold ideas," Bush said, raising the possibility they could serve as an alternative if there was no progress soon on a US-sponsored peace "road map."
Bush, possibly wary of alienating Arab and European allies, repeated that Washington preferred a negotiated settlement in West Asis.
"I believe, and Prime Minister Olmert agrees, that a negotiated final-status agreement best serves the Israelis and the Palestinians and the cause of peace," Bush said.
In a briefing later to reporters who accompanied him from Israel to Washington, Olmert said, "I am very, very, very satisfied with the president's comments.