This blog entry is written byNancy Brinker, Chief of Protocol at the U.S. Department of State.
It's been just over a week since I returned from accompanying President Bush on his historic voyage to the Middle East. Although the road ahead is long, I'm encouraged by what might be possible to achieve -- with a lot of work and cooperation on all sides.
It was an extremely busy trip. Tel Aviv was our first stop on January 9. The Israeli welcoming ceremony was very colorful, complete with red carpet and "The Star-Spangled Banner” playing in the background. President Bush met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres on this first day.
The President also met with the family of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is still recovering from his stroke in 2006. On January 10, the President met with both Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
At Jerusalem's King David Hotel, I met with Quartet Representative Tony Blair, who is hard at work advancing the cause of Middle East Peace.
There were also visits to historic landmarks that were truly poignant. On January 11 in Bethlehem, we visited the Church of the Nativity, built on ground where Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth was born. We also visited the Mount of the Beatitudes in Capernaum, where Jesus is believed to have delivered his Sermon on the Mount.
As someone who has lost relatives in the Holocaust, the most emotional visit was to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes Remembrance Authority. It is a memorial to the six million men, women and children of Jewish heritage who lost their lives during this tragedy. Yad Vashem contains the world's largest archive and library of material on the Holocaust, including 68 million pages of documents and nearly 300,000 photographs.
This was my second visit to Yad Vashem -- but it was no less moving for me.
We also visited the Children's Memorial, where Yad Vashem's director, Avner Shalev presented President Bush with a very special gift: the first replica of Carol Deutsch's Illustrated Bible. Deutsch created these precious illustrations while hiding in Belgium. Tragically, he was turned over to authorities and sent to Buchenwald, where he died in 1944.
On January 12, we flew east to Kuwait. At Camp Arifjan, the President greeted U.S. troops, and thanked them for their hard work and noble sacrifices. They are indeed brave.
Later, in Kuwait City, I joined The President as he spoke at length with Kuwaiti female leaders about their hopes for their nation and the democratic process. They thanked the President for supporting women's empowerment policies, which are helping more women in the Arab world meet their educational and career goals. Many of the women thanked the President for Mrs. Bush's visit on her breast cancer awareness trip. They said they were hopeful that this commitment would continue.
A day later, we arrived in Bahrain's capital of Manama, again to an outstanding welcoming ceremony. The President and King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa were found to be in an especially jovial mood.
Later that same day, in Abu Dhabi, our hosts greeted us with what would only be the first of a series of meals. Our closing dinner was actually held in a secluded part of the desert. Due to unexpected rains, the meal took place in tents, with a large fire nearby to add warmth.
Guided by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan, the President actively took part in a falconry demonstration.
Also in Abu Dhabi, the President delivered a powerful speech on "a great new era” dawning in the Middle East, and how his Administration will continue to support freedom for people around the world.
The pace of the trip intensified the next day. The President made stops in Dubai, where he spoke with young student leaders from the Dubai School of Government. We also enjoyed a children's dance performance, and the President posed with the young performers.
In Riyadh, the President and I both met with Dr. Samia Al-Amoudi after a roundtable discussion with Saudi entrepreneurs. We talked about building democratic institutions that will empower women and prepare them for entering the workforce.
Our last stop was Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, where President Bush met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. For me, it was a happy reunion. I last spoke to President Mubarak during a White House visit with President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.
The President has announced that he will return to the region in May. It means that once again, all sides will be striving to build the foundations of peace and progress.