U.S. tries to spur Middle East peace talks
The United States launched a fresh drive on Sunday to restart Middle East peace talks, sending senior officials to the region to deal with issues ranging from Jewish settlements to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The visits by Middle East envoy George Mitchell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser Jim Jones were a strong signal from U.S. President Barack Obama of his intention to keep Israeli-Arab peacemaking high on his agenda.
Obama's demand, in accordance with a 2003 U.S.-backed peace "road map," to freeze Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem has met stiff resistance from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Playing down the most serious rift in U.S.-Israeli ties in a decade, Netanyahu told his cabinet: "It is only natural, that within a fabric of friendly relations between allies, there isn't full agreement on all points."
He described Israel's relationship with Washington as "important and steadfast," a departure from tough comments he made only a week ago when he said he would not accept orders from the United States on Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said talks with Israel, suspended for more than six months, cannot resume until all Israeli settlement activity ceases.
"We are trying to reach understandings on various issues so that we can, together, advance our common goals: peace, security and prosperity for all of the Middle East," Netanyahu said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that Iran would not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon and reiterated Washington's commitment to protect Israel from any threat posed by Iran.
Flying into Israel from talks in Damascus with President Bashar al-Assad on the possibility of restarting Israeli-Syrian negotiations, Mitchell discussed a settlement deal and prospects for regional peace with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv.
Mitchell told reporters he has been urging Arab leaders "to take steps toward normalization as gestures of their own to demonstrate that everyone in the region shares the vision of comprehensive peace that we share."