US Envoy Steps Up Efforts to Save Mideast Talks

The U.S. Middle East envoy holds another round of separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Friday in an effort to salvage peace talks between the two sides.

George Mitchell has been in the region this week, trying to persuade the Palestinians to remain in direct talks with Israel in spite of last Sunday’s expiration of a freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Palestinians say settlement expansion is a key issue in determining if they will continue talks.
Mr. Abbas has said he will decide whether to quit the talks after consulting senior Arab officials next week. The Arab League meeting initially was scheduled for Monday, but officials say it now has been moved to Wednesday. Mr. Netanyahu says his government is committed to trying to reach an agreement with Palestinians that would preserve Israel’s security and other vital interests. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is also in the region for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials as well as with Mitchell. The EU is part of the Middle East Quartet, which also has the United States, Russia and the United Nations.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials deny news reports that President Barack Obama sent a letter to Mr. Netanyahu offering certain assurances if Israel extends the construction moratorium for two months. A report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said a U.S. promise to veto any U.N. Security Council initiative related to Arab-Israeli peace during a one-year negotiating period was included in the letter – Voanews