CAIRO: American President George W. Bush won the support of President Hosni Mubarak for his peace drive as he brought his Middle East tour to an end in Sharm El-Sheikh Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters in a joint press conference with the US president after a three-hour meeting, Mubarak said, “We are keen on supporting peace efforts. We are ready, hand-in-hand with the United States of America.
Mubarak added that Egypt was willing to work with the US and other nations for the “sake of a comprehensive and just peace, to put an end to this Israeli-Palestinian conflict [and] to open new horizons for the Middle East for a more peaceful and secure future.
Telling Bush that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the root of the turbulence in the Middle East, Mubarak added, “I also said that I wish that he will reach a peace agreement before the end of his term.
“I know nations in the neighborhood are willing to help, particularly yourself, Bush replied.
Bush, who was wrapping up an eight-day tour of the region, said, “When I say I’m coming back to stay engaged, I mean it. When I say I’m optimistic we can get a deal done, I mean what I’m saying.
To this end, Bush pledged to return to the region in May to continue efforts to reach a peace agreement.
The American president also pushed for greater political reform in Egypt, but did not criticize the government, instead saying that Egypt had taken some steps in the right direction but that more was needed in the area of democratic reform.
“My hope is that the Egyptian government will build on these important steps, he said, adding that Egypt could be on the vanguard of a “freedom and justice movement.
I’m absolutely confident that people in the Middle East are working on building a society based on justice, he added.
Bush s relatively short visit to Egypt after his longest stay in the region was construed by some as a reflection of the cooling of ties between the longstanding allies.
A recent spate of diplomatic tension over US accusations that Egypt was not doing enough to secure the border with Gaza culminated in the freeze of $100 million of aid.
On the other hand, the American president’s visit was met with strong opposition in Cairo from diverse facets of the political and public sphere.
Protests were held in downtown Cairo with both leftist and Islamist groups saying that Bush was a murderer who was not welcome.
More influentially, comments attributed to Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit scorned Bush’s peace efforts. “If he [Bush] was going to do something, he would have done it a long time ago. We will meet him anyway. It is a matter of public relations, Aboul Gheit reportedly said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied these comments, which were widely reported in the press.