Tags: Obama | Netanyahu | Mideast | talks

Obama Summons Defiant Netanyahu to White House

Monday, 22 Mar 2010 10:49 AM


JERUSALEM - US President Barack Obama summoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet him at the White House, even as the Israeli leader rebuffed a key US demand to halt settlement construction in east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Monday on a previously-scheduled trip, will meet with Obama on Tuesday to discuss Middle East peace efforts. The invitation was handed to Netanyahu by Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell at the start of a meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu's office said.

Mitchell on Monday said he had a "positive" meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas while hoping on starting US-brokered indirect negotiations with Israel as soon as possible.

The so-called proximity talks, which had been hard-won by Mitchell on a previous visit to the region, were thrown into doubt last week by Israel's announcement of new homes for Jewish settlers in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

"We discussed a full range of issues including our common desire to enter the proximity talks at the earliest possible time," Mitchell said.

He said he hoped the talks would proceed "in a manner which we hope will lead to direct negotiations and an agreement that starts the process of comprehensive peace in the Middle East that will allow two states for two people living side by side."

The US envoy said he would continue his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders "to establish the conditions which will make possible the early commencement of proximity talks and moving in the direction of peace and prosperity for all."

Mitchell also held talks in Aaman with King Abdullah II of Jordan, a key US ally which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

"Israel should stop its provocative actions. The United States should work on removing obstacles facing the relaunch of peace talks," a palace statement quoted the king as telling Mitchell.

The US senator's visit comes as the peace process has been thrown into disarray after Israel insisted it would go ahead with construction of the new settler homes in east Jerusalem, which to Washington's anger were announced during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden on March 9.

The Palestinians withdrew their earlier agreement to enter the proximity talks, which had been proposed as a comprise to get round their refusal to join direct talks without a total settlement freeze.

"We condemn the Israeli statements concerning... the settlement activities," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said at the joint news conference with Mitchell.

"It's a total defiance of the Quartet statement," he added.

On Friday, the so-called Middle East diplomatic Quartet -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations the United States -- called on Israel to "freeze all settlement activity... to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001 and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in east Jerusalem."

But on Sunday, Netanyahu insisted construction of the new homes would go ahead, saying: "Building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv and this is something we have made very clear to the US administration."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had decribed the timing of the announcement of the new homes as "insulting", was due to hold talks with Netanyahu in Washington later on Monday ahead of the Israeli premier's White House meeting on Tuesday.

The US Middle East envoy urged restraint from all sides following deadly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces near the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

"President Abbas raised his concern about recent events including the events in the last few days in the Nablus area," Mitchell told reporters.

"On behalf of the US and President (Barack) Obama, I urge all sides to exercise restraint. What is needed now is a period of calm and quiet in which we can go forward in the effort in which we are engaged."

Netanyahu, meanwhile, cancelled a planned 24-hour visit to Brussels later in the week for talks with European Union leaders, an Israeli official said on Monday.

Netanyahu had been scheduled to meet EU President Herman Van Rompuy and the prime ministers of Belgium, Italy and The Netherlands on his return from a visit to the United States.

However, Netanyahu called off the Brussels trip to extend his stay in Washington after receiving an invitation to meet with US President Barack Obama, the official said, asking not to be named.

The prime minister and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, amid a row over Israeli settlement building, were to meet and deliver speeches at a pro-Israel conference in Washington on Monday.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.






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Monday, 22 Mar 2010 10:49 AM
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