US President George W. Bush
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO
US President George W. Bush said on Monday he considered Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to be an "honest man" despite the ongoing police investigation against him.
Bush said in an interview with the Israeli Channel 10 in Washington that his vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal "remained the same" despite the probe, which has threatened to unseat Olmert and derail the US-backed talks on a Palestinian ceasefire.
"I understand the legal issue goes on and I respect Israeli rule of law," Bush said in excerpts from the interview aired by the channel in advance of a full broadcast to be aired on Tuesday.
"I have great relations with the prime minister, I find him to be a frank man, an honest man, an open man, a guy easy to talk to and somebody who understands the vision necessary for Israelis' security," The US president said in his first comments on the Olmert investigation.
"The vision of the peace process is the same," said Bush, due to visit Israel this week to mark the State's 60th birthday and to promote peace talks that he hopes will lead to an agreement with the Palestinians before he leaves office in January.
"I believe over time that when confronted with life in Gaza, what that's like, or life in a place where you can raise your child in peace, most Palestinians will choose peace," Bush said.
He also reiterated that he viewed Iran as the "single biggest threat to peace in the Middle East" and claimed Tehran was funding Hizbullah. "It's hard because not everybody shares the same anxiety Israel and the United States do," he said.
Bush is scheduled to arrive in Israel as part of his Middle East tour, in order to participate in President Shimon Peres' 'Facing Tomorrow' conference in honor of Independence Day, where he plans to speak on Wednesday. On Thursday Bush and his wife, Laura, plan to visit Massada, after which Bush will speak at the Knesset. On Friday he plans to meet with Israeli youths, after which he will leave the country.