White House confirms Sharon, Abbas visits
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas will visit the White House this month, White House spokesman Scott McClellan confirmed Thursday.
Abbas is scheduled to arrive July 25 and Sharon on July 29, McClellan said. It is not known whether the two visits will overlap.
Both meetings are designed to keep the momentum of the peace process going and fulfill President Bush's promise to keep the United States engaged in the region.
Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N.'s Middle East envoy, on Thursday lauded the "courageous pursuit of the peace process" by Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking to the U.N. Security Council, he said, "Hope is beginning to supplant despair after more than 1,000 days of violence and 3,500 dead. ... Israel and Palestinians are meeting regularly and working together at all levels."
Dan Gillerman, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said the statement was "positive and optimistic" and thought it was "quite balanced." A Palestinian reaction was not immediately available.
The Abbas visit to Washington, which the Palestinians announced Wednesday, will be the first time a Palestinian leader has been to the Bush White House.
Bush has refused to meet Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, the longtime Palestinian leader, publicly snubbing him and saying that he has not done enough to curb terrorist attacks on Israel.
After the trip was announced, Arafat said he supports it. Arafat said he had asked Abbas to make stops in Egypt and Jordan to consult with those governments before traveling on to Washington.
Arafat was sidelined from the day-to-day peace negotiations when Abbas became the first Palestinian prime minister and took over the lead role in those talks with the Israelis.
The United States and Israel have said they believe Abbas is a man with whom they can do business.
Abbas and Bush first met last month at the Aqaba summit in Jordan.
Since Abbas became prime minister, the Palestinians and Israelis have signed on to the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, and three leading Palestinian militant groups have agreed to a temporary cease-fire with the Israelis.
The road map -- drawn up by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- calls for a series of steps to be taken by both sides leading to the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel by the end of 2005.
The truce has not been solid, and some militants have continued sporadic attacks on Israeli targets. Palestinian Internal Security Minister Muhammad Dahlan told CNN this week he was trying to capture militants while rebuilding the security infrastructure.
Abbas canceled a meeting with Sharon last week after members of the Fatah Central Committee -- the Palestinian political leadership -- criticized the way he was handling negotiations with Israel.