Israel PM meeting with Obama envoy postponed
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama's peace envoy delayed talks planned in Europe as the allies negotiated differences on Jewish settlement building, officials said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Netanyahu, in Rome on the first leg of a European visit, told reporters travelling with him his government was also pushing for a deal to free a soldier held captive by Palestinian Islamist militants of Hamas who control the Gaza Strip.
The meeting between Netanyahu and Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, had been set to take place in Paris on Thursday and to focus on bridging differences over Israel's expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Israeli officials said.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak will instead visit Washington next Monday to meet Mitchell, a delay that will give both sides more time to "clarify some of the issues", Netanyahu spokesman Nir Hefetz said.
A U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed the talks were postponed and the plan for Mitchell to meet with Barak. The spokesman, Ian Kelly, had no comment on why it was important for Mitchell to see Barak first.
A senior U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said: "Mitchell and the prime minister jointly decided to postpone their meeting" and that Barak and Mitchell would meet in Washington on Monday to discuss "a range of issues".
An Israeli official told Reuters the U.S. and Israel were seeking to achieve "understandings" on settlement building in occupied land, an issue that has delayed the resumption of stalled Middle East peace talks.
"The goal we have is to try to reach understandings with the (Obama) administration on settlements, and move on," the Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.