President George W. Bush's goal of securing a Middle East peace deal before he leaves office remains unchanged, the White House said on Wednesday, despite Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to step down.
"We will continue to work on a deal before the end of the year," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said when asked how Olmert's departure would affect the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
US officials had played down the potential fallout from Olmert's departure, saying he is not the only Israeli leader committed to peacemaking.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched a round of talks in Washington on Wednesday with former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is considered a possible successor to Olmert.
Meanwhile senior Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat said the PA "decided today that we are going to continue pursuing to reach an agreement before the end of the year."
Bush spoke with OlmertJohndroe confirmed Bush spoke with Olmert just before the latter's public address.
"He wishes him well and will continue to work closely with him while he remains prime minister," he said.
"Relations between the United States and Israel during Prime Minister Olmert's tenure have been exceptionally close and cooperative, and the president has appreciated his friendship, his leadership, and his work for peace and we're confident that the close United States- Israel relationship will continue in the future," he added.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report