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Trip Notes from the Middle East
It's been a long trip and a successful trip. I had a chance to advance three major themes: first, that the United States is committed to helping Israel and the Palestinians achieve peace. Second, that in order for there to be peace, it's important for nations in the neighborhood to support both the Palestinians and the Israelis. And finally, I renewed our strong commitment to the security of the Gulf countries.
Visiting our fourth Gulf country in four days, it's clear that these countries share much common ethnic and cultural heritage. This morning in Riyadh, outside the Al Murabba Palace, we saw our third sword dance; to my untrained eyes and ears, the understated movements and melodic chanting of the dancers were nearly identical to those we saw yesterday in Dubai and Saturday in Bahrain.
The effort to educate women about breast cancer is truly ground breaking in the Middle East because theres definitely a stigma about the disease here. Many women are embarrassed to even mention breast cancer and they're slow to seek a doctor's help. By shedding light on this epidemic, Mrs. Bushs visit helped Middle Eastern women understand the importance of early detection and treatment.
Greetings - first, a word from last night's dinner in the desert in Abu Dhabi. The word: fantastic. It was colder than I expected it would be - it actually rained yesterday in Abu Dhabi, and I heard many people say it had been months since they'd had rain. We took helicopters to a remote location in the desert where our hosts had set up three tents for shelter...
We arrived in Abu Dhabi late Sunday morning, and were surprised to find it was raining. After a lavish lunch, the motorcade took us to the fabled Emirates Palace Hotel. The place looks like something out of a dream ... my room literally has about as much floor space as my house ... and the atrium, under a dome said to be as large as St. Paul's in London, is something to behold.
The President’s first event of the day was a meeting in Kuwait with General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, our Commanding General and Chief of Mission in Iraq. The President has a chance to visit with them almost every week by a secure video teleconference system (or SVTS) but used the opportunity of being in the region to meet with them face to face.
After a later-than-usual dinner at Prime Minister Olmerts residence last night with members of his cabinet, we were on the road early this morning to visit Yad Vashem, Israels Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.
The trip to the Middle East got off to a very positive start with the President having constructive meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert Wednesday evening and earlier today (Thursday) with Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Both men are clearly committed to trying to bring about lasting peace and prosperity for the people they were elected to represent, and they demonstrate the resolve necessary to make the hard decisions that will be necessary to reach a historic accord.
After boarding Air Force One around 7 PM EST on Tuesday, we had a great flight to Israel. There’s always a lot of activity on the flight over – some people read briefing papers, work on last-minute logistical issues, suggest edits to the President’s remarks…and others, like me, stake out territory to get some sleep on the overnight flight.
Tonight, President Bush will board Air Force One to travel to Israel, the West Bank, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Senior staff will post entries featuring highlights from the Presidents trip. We hope you will check back to read the latest Notes from the Middle East.