EVIAN, France – President Bush took early leave from the French countryside Monday to travel to Egypt to jump-start Middle East peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Talks begin Tuesday in the resort area of Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, where Bush will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search).
Bush was likely to win support from Arab leaders at the 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.
Also, 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. Abbas contends his authority is not broad enough yet to take the militants on directly.
On Wednesday, Bush and Abbas both travel to Jordan, where they will meet up with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The president will be joined in the talks by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who already met on Monday night with his counterparts from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the Palestinian Authority.
The group talked about the current situation in the region and what all the parties can do to support the roadmap. They agreed to make contributions to statements that may be issued after the meetings Tuesday.
Bush left early from the Group of Eight (search) summit, made up of the world's top industrialized countries and Russia. Leaders of the nations are meeting for a two-day session in Evian, France, hosted by French President Jacques Chirac (search).
Bush's early departure forced him to miss the summit's closing ceremonies, but U.S. and French officials insist the exit was not meant to be a snub of the French leader, with whom Bush has sought to mend fences following recent arguments over war in Iraq.
Deep disagreement over Iraq may linger between the two leaders, but publicly, they demonstrated only cordiality, shaking hands and smiling Monday as they chatted amiably before a working session of the group.
Chirac escorted Bush to a table on the terrace of the luxury hotel where talks are taking place, putting his hand on the president's shoulder. Bush, Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (search), who, along with Chirac, opposed the war in Iraq, gathered informally on the terrace and seemed to engage in light conversation.
Bush laid out his hopes and intentions for the most critical phase of his travels — the two days of talks on Middle East peace.
"My expectations in the Middle East are to call the respective parties to their responsibility to achieve peace. And to make it clear that 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," Bush said.
But the president also made clear he has no illusions about quick results:
"I fully understand that this is going to be a difficult process. I fully understand we need to work with our friends such as France, to achieve the process," he said.
Afterward, Bush and Chirac met privately, during which time they discussed the Middle East at length. Bush signaled over the last few days that he's prepared to set aside any resentments he may have toward France over its opposition to the war in Iraq in order to cooperate on key issues such as terrorism and Middle East peace, and he seemed to go out of his way to make that point before leaving for Egypt.
"[Chirac] is a man who knows a lot about the Middle East. He has got good judgment about the Middle East," Bush said.
Bush acknowledged that differences exist still over other world issues, including Iraq, but the president, who gave Chirac a gift of three books on Native American civilization, art and culture, said that is the past.
"I know there's a lot of people in both of our countries wondering if we could actually sit down and have a comfortable conversation and the answer is absolutely. We can have disagreements but that doesn't mean we have to be disagreeable to each other. I'm very glad I came, this has been a very helpful and positive meeting. Thank you for your hospitality," Bush said as a translator whispered into the ear of the smiling Chirac.
Bush thanked Chirac for backing a U.N. resolution last month to lift sanctions on Iraq and said the two leaders have found common ground on "a free Iraq, a healthy Iraq, a prosperous Iraq. We're in agreement and we'll move together to ensure that the Iraqi people have now got the capacity to run their own country."
Chirac, who speaks fluent English, did not comment on the feud, but before walking out — again with a hand on the president's back — said he was pleased with the direction of relations.
"We had a very positive meeting this morning that underscored our common belief in the capacity of tomorrow's world to achieve higher growth. It was thus a message of confidence," Chirac said. All countries shared the belief, "that is encouraging," he said.
The "courtesy call" may have been an opportunity for the presidents to tamp down hostilities still lingering among the public in each country. Prior to and during the war, many Americans had boycotted French wine and replaced the word "French" with "freedom" in front of popular foods like fries and toast. In return, French consumers renamed "American cheese" to "idiot cheese."
The G-8 summit may have done some good for relations, said Swiss President Pascal Couchepin (search), who attended as a guest of Chirac.
"When elephants fight, the whole forest trembles," Couchepin said, characterizing the Bush-Chirac disagreements over Iraq. "At the end of the day the atmosphere was quite good."
G-8 nations still have disagreements unrelated to war that need resolution. Trade, agriculture and the post-Cold War world pose considerable challenges to the leaders. Chirac has led the European refusal to accept genetically modified food (search) from the United States, which many European consumers won't eat. Most Americans have no such qualms.
Chirac also views the world as "multipolar," rather than containing one superpower and has said that Europe, China and India all must keep U.S. dominance in check. He said many summit leaders agreed with that view.
"I have no doubt whatsoever that the multipolar vision of the world that I have defended for some time is certainly supported by a large majority of countries throughout the world," Chirac told reporters.
Still, Bush has promised to consult with Chirac on Middle East peace efforts and implementation of the road map to peace. The road map, created by the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations, calls for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005 in exchange for security for Israel.
Bush is expected to tell Arab leaders with whom he meets on Tuesday to show more open support for Abbas and the peace effort, of which he is staking considerable political capital.
After the Middle East meetings, Bush will travel to Doha, Qatar, to visit American troops based at Central Command before returning to the United States.
Fox News' Jim Angle, Teri Schultz, Steve Centanni and The Associated Press contributed to this report.