Hastert: Bush Administration Has 'Strong Support' for Israel
(CNSNews.com) - President Bush met with members of Congress Thursday morning, discussing Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the domestic agenda - what Congress needs to accomplish in the next seven weeks.
In an interview with CNN, House Speaker Dennis Hastert put a positive spin on Israel's response to Washington's call to withdraw from Palestinian controlled areas: "Israel withdrew from six cities that we asked them to withdraw from," he said.
Hastert said he believes there's strong support from the Bush administration for Israel.
"We also understand that we have to have peace in the neighborhood, so we can't put other countries in jeopardy. As well as Israel, we have Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other counties that we need to make sure there's peace there as well," he said.
Hastert dismissed reports that President Bush's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is faltering. He said the Bush administration wants to get people talking and cool down hostilities in the area.
As for criticism directed at Secretary of State Colin Powell for planning to meet with Yasser Arafat, "If you don't talk to Arafat right now, who do you talk to?" Hastert asked.
After the White House meeting, Hastert returned to Capitol Hill for a press conference, where he expressed satisfaction with his meeting with Bush and applauded efforts by the president and Powell to try to bring peace to the region. But much work remains to be done, Hastert said.
"It is a very delicate situation over there. There [are] a lot of people on the Hill and in this town and around the country that certainly have their opinions, but it is very delicate," the House speaker said.
Hastert believes the United States needs to bring stability to the entire Middle East region and not just Israel.
"There are countries such as Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia that are in some sense fragile, and we don't want to lose that stability in that area, because they have been helpful to us, and we need to make sure that there is stability there as well. So this whole process is a very fragile process," he said.
Hastert's Democratic colleague, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) told reporters that he, too, thought the meeting with Bush went well but believes the president should consult more with Democrats about the Middle East.
"Americans support Israel, realize Israel is involved in a fight against terrorism and we will always be there for Israel, but we also have to be a force for peace. To do that, we've got to be together with the administration, to try to get this done and that takes continuous interchange of information between both branches of government," Gephardt said.
CNSNews.com Morning Editor Susan Jones contributed to this report.
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