Bush confers with Baker, finds 'cause for optimism' in Mideast


WASHINGTON -- President Bush insisted yesterday that "there is real cause for optimism" in his efforts to win a Middle East peace conference despite obstacles that remain following Secretary of State James A. Baker III's latest mission to the region.

Mr. Bush made his announcement to reporters after he and Mr. Baker put through a call to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as they met to discuss the results of the Baker trip that ended Thursday night.

The president refused to discuss any details of the call or explain the reasons for his optimism, citing the sensitivity of the negotiations.

But his approach to the Egyptian leader came two days after a similar call to Jordan's King Hussein and just before Mr. Mubarak was scheduled to join the king on a trip to Damascus for consultations with Syrian President Hafez el Assad.

Syria's participation would be required for the launching of formal peace talks with Israel, and a Syrian commitment would be likely to persuade King Hussein to take part.

President Mubarak heads the only Arab nation that has made peace with Israel, and he has expressed optimism that a wider peace is within reach.

The main purpose of Mr. Bush's call to King Hussein on Wednesday was to urge Jordan's participation in the peace process at a time when the king was only hinting at his intentions, White House officials said.

"When you're working a problem this complicated, you just keep on plugging away," the president told reporters as he left for a weekend at Camp David. "We're not about to stop. . . . Progress has been made."

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