US envoy visits Egypt to save Middle East talks

Sunday, October 3, 2010

CAIRO - The US’ special envoy to the Middle East sounded a cautious discord Sunday after he met with Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak, saying that he has faced “difficulties and obstacles” in his bid to sustain peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We knew when we began these efforts that there would be a lot of difficulties and obstacles, and there have been,” George Mitchell told journalists just after his meeting with the Egyptian president in Cairo.

“Despite their differences, both the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority asked us to continue these discussions in efforts to establish the conditions under which they could continue direct negotiations,” said Mitchell.

Contrary to what the Palestinian leadership said Saturday, Mitchell told reporters that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians wanted to stop the negotiations and that the US would not give up on efforts to keep the two sides in direct talks.

Mitchell left Ramallah Friday. The following day the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had said they would support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ending the direct negotiations with Israel — less than a month after the peace talks were relaunched in Washington.

The PLO said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bore full responsibility for the collapse of the talks, given his refusal to extend the temporary freeze on settlement construction in the face of both US and international pressure to do so and threats by Abbas that he would pull out of the talks if expansion continued.

Mitchell is scrambling to meet with Middle East leaders in the hope that they can persuade the Palestinian leadership to continue talks with Israel despite its refusal to extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement expansion in the West Bank that ended a week ago.

Mitchell met with leaders in Qatar Saturday before flying to Cairo, where he initially held talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Mitchell then met with Arab League leader Amr Moussa Saturday night, days before the league’s member states are expected to show support for Abbas’ withdrawal from the direct talks during a meeting in Cairo.

Mitchell is scheduled to be in Amman later in the day Sunday to meet with King Abdullah.

The US envoy is on his last leg of a regional tour after failing to get the Palestinians to agree to continue negotiations with Israel.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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