US envoy calls for prompt Israeli-Palestinian talks (Lead)

June 9th, 2009 - 5:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Jerusalem, June 9 (DPA) US President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East called Tuesday for no more foot-dragging in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
“We all share an obligation to create the conditions for the prompt resumption and early conclusions of negotiations,” George Mitchell told reporters after meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.

Mitchell began talks in Israel Tuesday, days after Obama’s address to the Muslim world in Cairo, in which the US president demanded an absolute freeze of Israeli construction on West Bank settlements - a demand Netanyahu has rejected.

Amid the widely reported US-Israeli dispute over settlements, the Obama envoy made of point of reiterating the US’ commitment to Israeli security and reassured the two countries remained “close allies and friends”.

“I want to begin by stating clearly and emphatically beyond any doubt that the United States’ commitment to the security of Israel remains unshakable,” he said.

“Let me be clear. These are not disagreements among adversaries. The United States and Israel are and will remain close allies and friends.”

Obama, in an address at Cairo University in Egypt Thursday, also demanded Israel recognise the Palestinians’ right to their own state.

Since taking office in March, Netanyahu has refused to openly endorse a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

The hardline premier has since Obama’s speech announced he will give a key policy address Sunday, in which some observers said he might, whether indirectly or directly, make the long-awaited expression of support for Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu’s office issued a statement overnight saying he and Obama spoke by telephone late Monday. It said the Israeli premier updated the US president “on his intention to make a diplomatic speech at the beginning of next week in which he will outline his policy to achieve peace and security”.

“Obama said that he is looking forward to hearing the speech,” the statement said, adding that the two leaders agreed to “continue maintaining an open and continuous contact” between them, and calling the telephone conversation “positive”.

But despite the official reassurances of friendship and support by both sides, an Israeli newspaper reported Tuesday Netanyahu believes, based on his Cairo speech, Obama wants a confrontation with Israel.

In Netanyahu’s opinion, the Americans believe an open controversy with Israel would serve the Obama administration’s main objective of improving US relations with the Arab world, the Ha’aretz daily quoted the premier’s confidants as saying.

Mitchell met with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak earlier in the morning and was scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu later Tuesday.

He was due to hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah Wednesday.

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