Olmert recommits to Annapolis


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Ehud Olmert pledged to the Bush administration that he would pursue peace talks with the Palestinians until he leaves office.

The Israeli prime minister met Monday morning with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

"The prime minister emphasized that the Israeli government is committed to continue the Annapolis process and to negotiate with the Palestinians on that basis," said an Israeli statement after the meeting, referring to the renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks launched last year in Annapolis, Md. "The prime minister reiterated that the Annapolis process will continue until our elections and hopes it will continue under the new [Israeli] administration."

Olmert, tainted by scandal, is leaving office, but is acting as prime minister until after Feb. 10 general elections in Israel. It could be well into March before he hands power to a new prime minister.

Tzipi Livni, who now heads Olmert’s Kadima Party, has said she will continue the process. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party has said he will revisit the precepts of the talks.

Olmert and the Bush team also discussed handing off the negotiations to the incoming Barack Obama administration in the United States.

Olmert met Monday evening with President Bush, and praised him for his friendship to Israel.

"I’m delighted to have this opportunity to express again the deep gratitude we all have to you, personally, as a human being, as a friend, as a courageous leader who has helped Israel so much over the period since you were President of the United States of America," Olmert said, meeting Bush in the Oval Office before the two men dined with their wives.

Olmert singled out the Iraq war as one of Bush’s great accomplishments.

"I will never forget that you have removed one of the most threatening strategic dangers from Israel on the east side, in Iraq. And this is a great achievement that makes life much better for many people in our part of the world, particularly for us and for our neighbors, as well."

Bush praised Olmert for "keeping his word" in his commitments to the peace process. "And in international politics, that’s important," Bush said. "And I want to thank you for the friendship, and thank you for your vision. And I just want you to know that I believe that vision is alive and needs to be worked on."

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