WASHINGTON -- Former President Jimmy Carter discussed his latest trip to the Middle East with President Bush on Tuesday and said he is more encouraged about the prospects for peace in the region than he has been in a decade.
'I believe that a comprehensive peace is both necessary and, I think, is inevitable,' Carter told reporters while visiting Bush in the Oval Office, which he occupied from 1977 until 1981. 'When it will come, remains to be seen.'
Carter, the architect of the historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1979, visited the principal nations of the Middle East earlier this month as a private individual, not as a representative of the U.S. government. It was Carter's third visit to the region since he left office.
'I was encouraged by this trip more than any other I've had in the last 10 years,' Carter said later at the Center for International and Strategic Studies.
'I am obviously frustrated. It is distressing to see so very little movement (toward peace).'
Carter met with Bush, Secretary of State James Baker and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and complimented their efforts to encourage the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate peace.
'I think our government should use maximum influence, not pressure, in Israel and other countries as well to go to the bargaining table,' Carter said.
Carter said he met for more than seven hours with Syrian President Hafez Assad and said he now welcomes direct talks with Israel on claims to the Golan Heights and the prospects for peace between the two adversaries.
Assad broke diplomatic relations with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat because of the peace treaty that grew out of his direct talks with Israel's Menachem Begin, but has since restored ties with the successor to the assassinated leader, Hosni Mubarak.
'He made clear that he didn't object to the format of an international peace conference,' Carter said. Such as conference might lead to direct talks with Israel, and Carter said that 'this can be worked out.'
Israel has annexed the Golan Heights, which it seized in the 1967 Middle East war, and has is opposed to their return to Syrian control. Syria shelled Israeli farms and settlements from the Heights.
The Israeli coalition government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Labor leader Shimon Peres collapsed during Carter's trip over differences in moving toward preliminary talks with Palestinian leaders concerning the future of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Carter said there can be 'no resolution of Palestinian rights' until negotiations can be set up with Israel, initially through an international conference sponsored by the United States or the United Nations.