President George W Bush has called for creating a
US-Middle East free trade area in ten years, saying the
ambitious venture would help end the Arab-Israeli conflict and
The US president said the plan would
reward reform-minded Arab nations and called on Israel to take
"tangible steps now" to ease Palestinian suffering.
"We have reached a moment of
tremendous promise, and the US will seize the moment for the
sake of peace," he said in a speech at the University of South
Carolina's graduation ceremony.
"So I propose the
establishment of a US-Middle East free trade area within a
decade, to bring the Middle East into an expanding circle of
opportunity, to provide hope for the people who live in that
region," said Mr Bush.
His comments came hours before
US Secretary of State Colin Powell was to travel to the region
for talks with Israel and the Palestinians on implementing the
so-called "road-map" to Middle East peace.
blueprint, which Bush formally released April 30, calls for
both sides to make concessions on the way to creating an
independent Palestinian state, living at peace with Israel, by
Mr Powell "carries with him my personal
commitment: America will work without tiring to achieve two
states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in security
and prosperity and in peace," said the
Later, the White House announced that
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would visit Mr Bush in
Washington on May 20 to discuss the