WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Thursday called Israeli settlement expansion an "impediment" in revived peace efforts and urged the Jewish state to meet its pledge to dismantle unauthorized settler outposts.
In an interview with Reuters less than a week before his first presidential visit to Israel and the West Bank, Bush voiced optimism for securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of 2008, a goal set at last November's Annapolis conference that has been viewed with some skepticism.
Bush said he would use his trip to keep pressure on both sides, including making clear to Israelis his concern about Jewish settlement activity. Peace talks ahead of Bush's visit have been soured by disputes over continuing settlement construction on occupied land.
"I will talk about Israeli settlement expansion, about how that is, that can be, you know, an impediment to success," he said. "The unauthorized outposts for example need to be dismantled, like the Israelis said they would do."