SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – President Bush (search), taking the lead in the frustrating search for Mideast peace, pledged Monday to work unstintingly for the goal of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side without bloodshed. He said that "this is going to be a difficult process" but claimed progress.
Bush was likely to win support from Arab leaders at a summit Tuesday for countering terrorism and for his peacemaking effort. But Arab acceptance of Israel remains conditional on Israel yielding all the land it won in the 1967 Mideast war. That includes part of Jerusalem.
The United States also was trying to narrow differences between Israel and Palestinian leaders before Bush meets with them on Wednesday in Jordan.
Israel wants the Palestinians to refer in their statement to a Jewish state. And the Palestinians want Israel to specifically endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state.
On the explosive security front, meanwhile, a compromise was taking shape, with Israel apparently willing to settle for a ceasefire now, provided the Palestinians confront terror groups and uproot them at a later stage. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas contends his authority is not broad enough yet to take the militants on directly.
Bush, following a path that has turned into dead ends for other presidents, began his first trip to the Middle East with a stop at this Red Sea resort. On Tuesday he will meet with Abbas and the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain.
The United States is seeking Arab commitments to strengthen Abbas' credibility and raise his stature, hoping to marginalize Yasser Arafat (search), the longtime Palestinian leader who Bush says is untrustworthy.
"I know we won't make progress unless people assume their responsibilities," Bush said. "The first message is: I will dedicate the time and energy to move the process forward. And I think we'll make some progress. I know we're making progress."
Arriving at night, the president was greeted at the airport by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Bush wrapped his arm around him in a hug. Mubarak signaled his acceptance of the U.S. formula for peace by inviting Abbas instead of Arafat to the summit.
Bush's first foray into the complicated world of Mideast negotiations poses a sharp test of the skills of a president whose mastery of foreign policy has been doubted at times. The president had resisted involvement in Mideast peace efforts but promised allies earlier this year that he would plunge in after the Iraq war.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said the summit was important to demonstrate Arab support for the road map and show that Arab leaders will be "speaking out as strongly as I expect the Palestinians to do in denouncing terror and violence and any support that is given to those that practice terror and violence."
Tuesday's meeting will be followed by another summit in Jordan on Wednesday with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel's most prominent hawk. Powell called the two days of talks a "window of opportunity" to build momentum for ending 32 months of bloody Mideast violence and launching the U.S.-sponsored "road map" that envisions a Palestinian state by 2005.
Preparing for the talks, U.S. officials worked with Israelis and Palestinians on the wording of possible declarations in which the two sides would recognize the other's right to statehood and security. Such declarations are required by the road map, the phased peace plan that calls for an immediate cease-fire and reciprocal steps by the two parties.
Powell took note of Sharon's statement to his Cabinet on Sunday that Israel would dismantle settlements in Palestinian-controlled areas that have been set up in violation of Israeli law, according to an official who was present. Sharon's commitment showed that Israel believes that "it's a situation that is unsustainable over time," Powell said.
He said the settlement issue would be discussed at Wednesday's meeting. "I think it's well understood that the outposts are not there properly and will have to be removed," Powell said.
On the Palestinian side, Abbas' government continued to work toward a declaration of a cease-fire on attacks against Israelis by militant groups like Hamas. While Israel demands a crackdown, including arrest of Hamas militants, Abbas prefers to negotiate a truce.
Abbas said the Palestinian leadership "is committed to implementing its part of the road map and calls on Israel to do the same." His comments, reported by the official Jordanian news agency, Petra, came during talks in Jordan with King Abdullah II.
Bush flew here from Evian, France, where he cut short his participation at the annual summit of industrialized nations by a day to turn to peacemaking.
At an appearance with French President Jacques Chirac (search), Bush spoke of the Mideast and said "my country and I will put in as much time as necessary to achieve the vision of two states living side by side in peace."
The pursuit of Middle East peace has stymied American presidents for decades. Bill Clinton traveled to the region a half dozen times and devoted the closing days of his presidency to the search for a settlement. An agreement seemed within reach but then collapsed when Arafat and then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak turned away.
Bush's Mideast visit follows earlier stops in Poland, Russia and France. He will wrap up his trip on June 5 by visiting U.S. troops in Doha, Qatar, the forward U.S. command post from where the Iraq war was managed.