WASHINGTON – President Bush will host Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) at his Texas ranch on April 11 to help advance the Middle East peace process, the White House said Friday.
Invitations to the president's private ranch at Crawford, Texas, typically are reserved for top diplomatic efforts, and this one comes as Bush has been citing progress in the Israel-Palestinian conflict (search).
"The president looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sharon a wide range of key bilaterabas and Sharon to the United States last month during a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank, but the White House had not previously disclosed that Sharon's visit would be at the ranch.
Several senior Israeli political and military officials are due to come to Washington for talks in early April to help set the stage for the Bush-Sharon meeting. These include Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, longtime advocate of Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.
In a speech last week, Bush hailed fresh signs of democracy in the Middle East. He said the United States' goal is to see "two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security."
"The United States is determined to help the parties remove obstacles to progress and move forward in practical ways, so we can seize this moment for peace in the Holy Land," Bush said during a March 8 speech at the National Defense University.
Bush has said both sides have responsibilities in the peace process. He said Palestinian leaders must dismantle terrorist groups, fight corruption and establish a successful democracy, while Israel must freeze settlement activity and help the Palestinians build their economy and a contiguous territory on the West Bank (search).
Sharon will be the third foreign leader to visit the ranch in less than a month. Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin are scheduled to visit Wednesday.
Bush plans to hold working sessions with Fox and Martin at Baylor University in nearby Waco, Texas, and host a lunch for them at his ranch, where he will be taking an Easter break.