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Date posted: April 14, 2004
By CNN

WASHINGTON -- President Bush met Wednesday at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and praised Sharon's proposed withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

The Palestinians object to a provision in the plan, which would allow Israel to retain control of six blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Following is a transcript of statements by Bush and Sharon after their meeting.

BUSH: I'm pleased to welcome Prime Minister Sharon back to the White House.

For more than 50 years, Israel has been a vital ally and a true friend of America. I've been proud to call the prime minister my friend. I really appreciate our discussions today.

The policy of the United States is to help bring peace to the Middle East and to bring hope to the people of that region.

On June 24, 2002, I laid out a vision to make this goal a reality. We then drafted the "road map" as the route to get us there.

The heart of this vision is the responsibility of all parties -- of Israel, of the Palestinian people, of the Arab states -- to fight terror, to embrace democracy and reform, and to take the necessary steps for peace.

Today, the prime minister told me of his decision to take such a step.

Israel plans to remove certain military installations and all settlements from Gaza and certain military installations and settlements from the West Bank.

These are historic and courageous actions. If all parties choose to embrace this moment, they can open the door to progress and put an end to one of the world's longest-running conflicts.

Success will require the active efforts of many nations. Two days ago I held important discussions with President [Hosni] Mubarak of Egypt, and I will soon meet with King Abdullah of Jordan. We're consulting closely with other key leaders in the region, in Europe and with our quartet partners: the E.U., Russia and the United Nations.

These steps can open the door to progress toward a peaceful, democratic, viable Palestinian state. Working together we can help build democratic Palestinian institution as well as strong capabilities dedicated to fighting terror so that the Palestinian people can meet their obligations under the road map on the path to peace.

This opportunity holds great promise for the Palestinian people to build a modern economy that will lift millions out of poverty, create the institutions and habits of liberty, and renounce the terror and violence that impede their aspirations and take a terrible toll on innocent life.

The Palestinian people must insist on change and on a leadership that is committed to reform and progress and peace.

We will help, but the most difficult work is theirs.

The United States is strongly committed and I am strongly committed to the security of Israel as a vibrant Jewish state. I reiterate our steadfast commitment to Israel's security and to preserving and strengthening Israel's self-defense capability, including its right to defend itself against terror.

The barrier being erected by Israel as a part of that security effort should, as your government has stated, be a security rather than political barrier. It should be temporary rather than permanent, and therefore not prejudice any final status issues, including final borders. And this route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities.

In an exchange of letters today and in a statement I will release later today, I'm repeating to the prime minister my commitment to Israel's security.

The United States will not prejudice the outcome of final status negotiations and matters for the parties. But the realities on the ground and in the region have changed greatly over the last several decades, and any final settlement must take into account those realities and be agreeable to the parties.

The goal of two independent states has repeatedly been recognized in international resolutions and agreements, and it remains a key to resolving this conflict.

The United States is strongly committed to Israel's security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there rather than Israel.

As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

I commend Prime Minister Sharon for his bold and courageous decision to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. I call on the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors to match that boldness and that courage. All of us must show the wisdom and the will to bring lasting peace to that region.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the White House.

SHARON: Thank you.

I want to thank you, Mr. President, for your warm welcome and your strong support and friendship for the state of Israel.

I came to you from a peace-seeking country. Despite the repeated terror attacks against us, the people of Israel continue to wish for the achievement of a viable peace in accordance with our Jewish tradition, as outlined by Israel's prophets.

Our people desire to be known for its achievement in the fields of culture, science and technology, rather than in the battlefield.

We are committed to make any effort to develop our country and society for our own benefit and for the benefit of the peoples of the region.

In our meeting today, I presented to you the outlines of my disengagement plan. It will improve Israel's security and economy, and reduce friction and tension between Israelis and Palestinians.

My plan will create a new and better reality for the state of Israel. And it also has the potential to create the right conditions to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

I was encouraged by your positive response and your support for my plan.

In that context, you handed me a letter that includes very important statement regarding Israel security and its well-being as a Jewish state. You have proven, Mr. President, your ongoing, deep, and sincere friendship for the state of Israel and to the Jewish people.

I believe that my plan can be an important contribution to advancing your vision, which is the only viable way to achieve peace and security in the Middle East.

I wish to end with a personal note. I, myself have been fighting terror for many years, and understand the threats and cost of terrorism. In all these years, I have never met a leader as committed as you are, Mr. President, to the struggle for freedom and the need to confront terrorism wherever it exists.

I want to express my appreciation to you for your courageous leadership in the war against global terror, and your commitment and vision to bring peace to the Middle East.

Thank you, Mr. President.

BUSH: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Good job, good job.

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