CAIRO, Egypt — President Bush said Wednesday that achieving peace in the Middle East would remain a priority goal for his last full year in office and promised that he'd return to the region to monitor developments.
"I mean what I say," he said at the resort town of Sharm el Sheik on the final stop of an eight-day tour of the Middle East.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, standing alongside Bush, promised to support him in his vision for an Arab-Israeli peace accord before the end of this year.
Political analysts said the visit to the region injected some momentum into the stagnant peace negotiations, though fresh violence in Gaza threatened to undo the progress. Bush received rather lackluster responses from Arab leaders on his other key issues: isolating Iran, increasing oil production and inching toward democracy.
In Cairo, Islamist and secular activists protested peacefully before Bush's arrival.
Independent Egyptian newspapers and opposition activists expressed anger over Bush's arrival in Egypt a day after an Israeli military operation killed 19 Palestinians in Gaza, including a son of the leader of the powerful militant Islamist group Hamas.
"We reject this visit and condemn it, all these massacres that happen in Palestine," said Hamdy Hassan, an Egyptian legislator from the parliamentary bloc of the Muslim Brotherhood, the ideological inspiration for Hamas. "Yesterday's events in Gaza are not a coincidence, and they happen with American weapons. . . . This visit is an insult — two or three hours, just a pit stop."
Cairo newspapers reported earlier this week that Egyptian officials were upset that Bush failed to mention Egypt in a speech Sunday that praised several Arab countries for tentative democratic reforms. Several commentators also criticized the brevity of Bush's stop in Egypt, compared with his overnight stays and high-end sightseeing on the Persian Gulf leg of his trip.
An Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss Bush's trip, said there was no need for a longer stay because there had been "weeks and weeks" of bilateral talks before Wednesday's meeting.
The official acknowledged that the Egyptian government disagrees with the Bush administration's approach to Iraq, Lebanon and Iran, but said no current grievance was serious enough to damage their two nations' long-standing ties.
"These are institutional relationships that will continue beyond the terms of either president," the official said.
(McClatchy special correspondent Naggar reported from Cairo; Allam reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.)
McClatchy Newspapers 2008