JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, began a new push to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Tuesday by opening a series of talks with leaders in the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is at odds with Obama over the president’s demand to halt Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and has not endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state, a cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy.
Obama spoke to Netanyahu by phone on Monday and the White House said the president “reiterated the principal elements of his Cairo speech, including his commitment to Israel’s security.”
In his address to the Muslim world in Cairo last week, Obama also called on Israel to freeze settlements.
Netanyahu is to make a major policy speech on Sunday in which a senior official said the Israeli leader would “articulate his vision on how to move forward in the peace process with the Palestinians and with the larger Arab world.”
A statement issued by the Netanyahu’s office said “President Obama said he was waiting to hear the speech with interest.”
Mitchell opened his meetings in Tel Aviv with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and was later to travel to Jerusalem to meet Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and President Shimon Peres.
He meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.
“The president has told me to exert all efforts to create the circumstance when the parties can begin immediate discussions,” Mitchell told reporters at a Palestinian donors’ conference in Oslo, referring to renewed negotiations that President Barack Obama has pledged to pursue.