Biden begins Israeli meetings, after US announces new peace talks
Vice President Joe Biden began talks in Jerusalem Tuesday, preparing the ground for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that are to end a more than one-year freeze in the peace process, DPA reported.
Biden, the highest-ranking official in the administration of President Barack Obama to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority, began a packed three-day itinerary by meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem Tuesday morning.
Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, late Monday made the long-awaited formal announcement that the sides had agreed to hold indirect talks, despite Palestinian anger over an Israeli decision to give exceptional permission for the construction of 112 new apartments in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem.
"I'm pleased that the Israeli and Palestinian leadership have accepted indirect talks," Mitchell said in a statement from Jerusalem.
He said he hoped the indirect negotiations would "lead to direct negotiations as soon as possible."
He added the "structure and scope" of the talks were still being discussed and he would return to the region next week to continue the discussions.
The Palestinians want a four-month time frame to the talks.
They have refused to enter into direct negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of the nationalist Likud party, demanding a freeze of all Israeli construction in both the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, with no exceptions.
Biden landed to an understated welcome in Tel Aviv Monday afternoon. His visit is scheduled to include stop-overs in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem on Wednesday.