( AP ) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday he hopes a peace deal with the Palestinians can be reached in 2008, as he met Egypt's leader to drum up support from reluctant Arab states for an upcoming Mideast peace conference.
Olmert in the past had said only that he hoped to make serious strides toward such a deal before President Bush leaves office in January 2009. But he went further Tuesday, saying "I very much hope we can reach this agreement in the course of 2008."
Olmert's meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak came after the Israeli leader had failed to bridge gaps in a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Arab states have said they wouldn't give full support to the gathering next week in Annapolis, Md., unless it tackles the tough issues that have blocked the establishment of a Palestinian state in past talks.
But Egypt said Monday it would send its foreign minister to the talks. And Mubarak, after the meeting with Olmert, said he hoped the meeting will succeed.
"I am looking forward to constructive positions from Prime Minister Olmert to establish the foundations (of peace) and ensure the success of the conference," Mubarak said.
Israel and the Palestinians have been unable to meet their goal of reaching a joint blueprint for peace talks for presentation at the conference. The deadlock is likely to influence the Arab League when its members meet on Friday to decide whether to attend.
Another key country, Saudi Arabia, has not indicated if it will attend, or at what level.
Olmert reached out to Arab countries, saying a peace initiative originally proposed by Saudi Arabia but now endorsed by the Arab League is held "in great esteem" by Israel and would in 2008 "surely make a significant contribution toward a solution between us and the Palestinian people."