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Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Discuss 'Core Issues' - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attends a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh. (AFP)

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attends a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh. (AFP)

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AFP) – The United States on Tuesday reiterated its call for Israel to extend a freeze on settlements as it said Israel and the Palestinians began tackling “core issues” in new peace talks.

On her first visit to the Middle East since launching the talks in Washington on September 2, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Abbas and Netanyahu shook hands and smiled for the cameras at the start of what US envoy George Mitchell said was a 100-minute meeting where the parties “began a serious discussion on core issues.”

These are Israel’s security, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jerusalem, but Mitchell did not say which of these were discussed.

Meanwhile, an Israeli official told reporters on the condition of anonymity that Netanyahu and Abbas would hold one-on-one talks later in the day.

On her way to Egypt from Washington, Clinton repeated US President Barack Obama’s call last Friday for Israel to extend the 10-month moratorium on settlement construction that is due to expire later this month.

But she did not rule out a deal between the two sides that would result in something short of an extension of the partial freeze, which is due to expire September 30.

Mitchell said the US position on settlements is “well known and remains” unchanged when he was asked whether progress was made toward taking other steps than those on settlements that would boost the negotiations.

“As president Obama said just recently, we think it makes sense to extend the moratorium, especially given that the talks are moving in a constructive direction,” he said.

The Palestinians have warned that if the moratorium is not extended, the talks could come to a complete halt.

Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki backed the Palestinian position.

“No one should expect Egypt to convince the Palestinians of what they are not convinced of; they have a clear position on this issue and we support them,” he said.

But Zaki played down talk of deadlock.

“It’s too early, let’s see what transpires. It is naive to think that something concrete would come out of only the second round of talks.”

A senior member of Abbas’s Fatah party, Hatem Abdel Qadir, told Egyptian television on Monday that Washington was pressuring the Palestinians to drop their condition of a complete settlement freeze for the talks to continue.

But a member of the negotiating team, Nabil Shaath, said after Clinton met Abbas that the Palestinian leader was not asked to reverse his condition on settlements.

“President Abu Mazen met the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and our position was clear that the settlements are the main obstacle,” he said.

“No one asked us to change our position,” he said.

Tuesday’s talks were also expected to tackle the agenda for the negotiations, with Netanyahu reportedly wanting first to address future security arrangements and secure Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

But the Palestinians want first to define the borders of a future Palestinian state, address the status of Jerusalem and discuss the right of return of refugees who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel in 1948.

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was seeking to negotiate an agreement quickly but one that would be implemented over a long period.

“The goal is a historic peace agreement within a year,” Regev said. “The prime minister has spoken of a framework agreement. It is clear that implementation will be over time.

“We have no illusions about the difficulties,” he added.

During the flight over, Clinton said the “time was ripe” for a solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“If you listen to both leaders, they recognise time is not on either of their sides,” she said.

Clinton was scheduled to hold three way talks with Netanyahu and Abbas in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Palestinian President Abbas attends a meeting with Egyptian President Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh. (R)

Palestinian President Abbas attends a meeting with Egyptian President Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh. (R)

An Egyptian worker raises his national flag at the El-Salam (peace) road in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh. (AFP)

An Egyptian worker raises his national flag at the El-Salam (peace) road in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh. (AFP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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