Bush optimistic on eve of Mideast peace conference

WASHINGTON

President Bush stepped cautiously into the most direct Mideast peacemaking of his administration on yesterday, meeting separately with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to explore whether peace is possible. “Difficult compromises” will be required but the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are committed to making them, he said.
A day ahead of a major Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md., Bush said he was optimistic. The gathering is to launch the first direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians of Bush’s nearly seven years in office, and has attracted Arab and other outside backing.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders have already said they want to conclude a bargain within the 14 months that Bush has left in office.

WASHINGTON

Bush signs deal, sets up long-term troop presence in Iraq

President Bush signed a deal yesterday setting the foundation for a potential long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq, with details to be negotiated over matters that have defined the war debate at home – how many U.S. forces will stay in the country, and for how long.
The agreement between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirms that the United States and Iraq will hash out an “enduring” relationship in military, economic and political terms. Details of that relationship will be negotiated in 2008, with a completion goal of July, when the U.S. intends to finish withdrawing the five combat brigades sent in 2007 as part of the troop buildup that has helped curb sectarian violence.

PASCAGOULA, Miss.

Lott plans to retire at year’s end

Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott announced yesterday he will leave a 35-year career in Congress in which he epitomized the Republicans’ political takeover of the South after the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.
Lott said he wanted to leave on a “positive note” after winning re-election last year to a leadership post and fostering legislation for rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. He was first elected to Congress on the coattails of Richard Nixon’s re-election landslide in 1972 – with 78 percent of the vote in Mississippi. He won election to the Senate in 1988, succeeding retiring veteran Democrat John Stennis.
His decision to retire by year’s end occurred five years after he was bounced as the leader of his party in the Senate over remarks praising a Senate colleague that were interpreted as endorsing segregation.

BAGHDAD

Gunmen raid home of man tied to Hussein’s party

Masked gunmen stormed the family home of a journalist who was associated with Saddam Hussein’s party and critical of the Iraqi government, killing 11 relatives as they ate breakfast in a neighborhood known as a Shiite militia stronghold, colleagues said yesterday.
Dhia al-Kawaz, editor of the Jordan-based Asawat al-Iraq news agency, was in Jordan when his sisters, their husbands and children were reportedly killed Sunday in north Baghdad’s Shaab district.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports

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