US envoy starts talks in Israel

June 9th, 2009 - 1:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Tel Aviv, June 9 (DPA) US President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East began talks in Israel Tuesday amid a deepening row over Israeli settlements.
George Mitchell met Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in the morning and was scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before travelling to the West Bank city of Ramallah Wednesday for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

His visit came days after Obama’s address to the Muslim world in Cairo, in which he demanded an absolute freeze of Israeli construction on West Bank settlements, a demand Netanyahu has rejected.

Obama 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 announced he would give Sunday a key policy address, in which some observers said he might, indirectly, make the long-awaited expression of support for Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu’s office issued a statement overnight saying he and Obama spoke over telephone late Tuesday. 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”.

But an Israeli newspaper quoted Netanyahu confidants Tuesday saying the prime minister believes Obama wants a confrontation with Israel, based on Thursday’s speech at Cairo University.

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 aides said, according to the left-liberal Ha’aretz daily.

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