Clinton to hold ME talks

2009-10-29 20:45

Islamabad - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will hold weekend talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the Middle East to work through "challenges" in the quest for peace, an official said on Thursday.

Clinton will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas separately as the United States seeks to unblock stagnant peace efforts, before she meets Arab leaders in Morocco on Monday.

"The secretary this weekend will have meetings in the Middle East with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas," state department spokesperson Philip Crowley told reporters travelling with Clinton in Pakistan.

Crowley declined to give further detail with the schedule still fluid.

US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, was scheduled to arrive in the Middle East on Thursday for preparatory meetings with Netanyahu, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian officials.

"Her visit reflects the administration's commitment, and her personal commitment, to work through the challenges we face in pursuit of comprehensive Middle East peace," Crowley said in a statement.

Downbeat report

Clinton last week offered President Barack Obama a downbeat report on his administration's so-far frustrated efforts to forge Middle East peace.

Obama has made the issue a cornerstone of his foreign policy, and cajoled Netanyahu and Abbas into joining him at a summit last month in New York.

The US president has been trying to get Netanyahu's hawkish government to agree to a complete freeze on settlement expansion on the occupied West Bank and for the Palestinians to take steps to improve Israeli security.

But despite the efforts of Obama, Clinton and Mitchell, the administration has had few breakthroughs, and Israelis and Palestinians seem as estranged as ever.

The situation is complicated by divisions between Palestinians, namely Abbas's Fatah party, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip.

Arab states have also so far rebuffed Obama's call to make concessions - such as the overflight of their territory by Israeli civilian aircraft - to improve the atmosphere for peacemaking.

Clinton is due in Morocco on Monday and Tuesday for talks with Middle East and Group of Eight countries about promoting economic and political progress.

The G8 is composed of the world's leading industrial countries - the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.