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US President George W Bush
First created :
10 May 2003 0716 hrs (SST) 2316 hrs (GMT)
Last modified :
12 May 2003 0710 hrs (SST) 2310 hrs (GMT)

President Bush pushes for US-Middle East free trade zone 

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 curb terrorism.

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.

That 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 2005.

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 president.

Later, the White House announced that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would visit Mr Bush in Washington on May 20 to discuss the "road-map".

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