Clinton: US continues effort to launch direct Mideast peace talks
Washington's Middle East envoy held separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak Wednesday, in a bid to kick-start direct peace talks with the Palestinians, dpa reported.
Both Israelis urged George Mitchell to press Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to move on from indirect to direct talks without preconditions.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Washington during an appearance with the Argentine foreign minister that Mitchell and Netanyahu met for two hours.
"It was a good, productive meeting," she said.
"We continue to work closely with both sides to get to direct talks as soon as possible."
She spoke after Mitchell failed Tuesday to persuade the Palestinian Authority to drop its conditions for the start of direct negotiations.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters after the three-hour meeting between and the US mediator in Ramallah Tuesday that "we are not against direct negotiations. We want direct talks with a specific agenda and timetable."
"Israel should stop settlements, including in Jerusalem, and accept the two states principle on the 1967 borders with an agreed on territorial swap," he added.
Abbas said on Monday that he was under heavy pressure to start direct negotiations with Israel. The US, the European Union, Russia and the Arab states have all called on him to start direct talks.
"The key to direct negotiations is in the hands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he declares a halt to settlements and accepts the two-state reference," said Erekat.
"These are not Palestinian conditions. These are Israeli commitments according to the signed agreements," he added.
Netanyahu has indicated he may not extend the 10-month partial freeze of Israeli construction in West Bank settlements beyond its expiry date of September 26.
The partial freeze excludes East Jerusalem, and it also excludes buildings whose foundations have already been laid. The Israeli premier has said he fears an extension would jeopardize his right- leaning coalition.