Give Mideast Talks a Chance for Success, Obama Tells Leaders
Washington FILE 09/22/2009
By Stephen Kaufman
Washington — President Obama says all sides in the Middle East conflict need to act “with a sense of urgency” to find a way forward to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and tells Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas that permanent status negotiations “must begin and begin soon.”
Speaking in New York on September 22 ahead of the 64th United Nations General Assembly, Obama said his message to the two leaders was clear. “Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward. We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering,” the president said.
Obama said it is “past time” to talk about starting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, it is time to move forward and “show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that’s necessary to achieve our goals.” Along with the necessity to begin negotiations, “more importantly, we must give those negotiations the opportunity to succeed,” he said.
“We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back. Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency,” Obama said.
He welcomed strengthened Palestinian efforts on security, but said more needs to be done to stop incitement against Israel. Obama also said Israel has facilitated greater freedom of movement for Palestinians and discussed steps to restrain settlement activity, but “need[s] to translate these discussions into real action on this and other issues.”
Obama also called on Arab states to “take concrete steps to promote peace.”
The president said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell have been working tirelessly to create the context for permanent status talks and that the United States is committed to pressing ahead, adding that Secretary Clinton will report to him on the status of negotiations in mid-October.
“It is absolutely critical that we get this issue resolved. It’s not just critical for the Israelis and the Palestinians, it’s critical for the world, it is in the interests of the United States. And we are going to work as hard as necessary to accomplish our goals,” Obama said.
Following the trilateral meeting, Mitchell told reporters in New York that it was helpful for Netanyahu and Abbas to have heard directly from Obama and to see that despite the many issues the president is currently working on, “he is prepared to take the time at this juncture, when there is not an agreement between them to relaunch negotiations, to devote his time, effort and … what I think is his deep commitment to get this process going, to move to the next stage.”
Mitchell said that although many obstacles remain in the way of restarting talks, “there’s a very decisive difference in where we are now than where we were when the president took office” in January, citing progress in Palestinian economic growth, “very substantial” agreement on the removal of illegal Israeli outposts in the West Bank, and other actions that “don’t get attention precisely because we’ve passed the stage of disagreement over them.”
The United States wants final status negotiations relaunched, he said. “Everything we have said and done in this period has been in an effort to achieve that objective.”
“We believe the suggestions that we’ve made and the requests that we’ve made would, if accepted and acted upon, create the most favorable conditions available to try to achieve success in those negotiations. But we do not believe in preconditions. We do not impose them. And we urge others not to impose preconditions,” Mitchell said.
He speculated that there would be a period of “a matter of weeks” between an agreement to relaunch negotiations and their actual commencement, during which the resolution of outstanding issues would be explored “in even greater detail.”
Mitchell also said he anticipates “an active United States presence” in negotiations, but that it would not preclude direct talks between the two sides.
“We’re going to try to proceed in a manner that is guided by a single standard: What is the method that will be best calculated to achieve the desired result of a comprehensive peace in the region?” he said.
What foreign affairs decisions should President Obama consider? Comment on America.gov’s blog Obama Today ( http://blogs.america.gov/obama/2009/01/21/day-2-what-should-obama%e2%80%99s-top-priorities-be ).
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)