WASHINGTON, Nov 27 (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush stepped aboard his helicopter on Tuesday morning headed for a Middle East conference not knowing if he would be able to announce a deal between Palestinians and Israelis to rekindle peace talks.
He arrived at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, about 20 minutes later to learn that the two sides were on the verge of doing just that. The White House said a last-minute intervention by the president helped seal the agreement.
"We didn’t know that there was going to be a statement," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino after being asked by a reporter why Bush took the unusual step of wearing his glasses to read the 437-word agreement before delivering his planned speech.
"The president helped them resolve those differences," she said. Perino refused to identify the sticking points but said aides for the three governments worked out the final wording on the document.
"Everyone agreed to it and the president said: ‘Why don’t I read this at the top of my speech?’ and they all agreed," she said.
Bush made the dramatic announcement at the start of a daylong, 44-nation Middle East peace conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas standing at his side.
Bush will again meet with Abbas and Olmert on Wednesday at the White House and a brief meeting with all three leaders has been added to the schedule, Perino said. (Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Jackie Frank)