U.S. ready to seek lasting peace between Israelis, Palestinians, says Obama

08:40, September 02, 2010      

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U.S. President Barack Obama (C) delivers a statement to the press after meeting with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan King Abdullah II, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington D.C., capital of the United States, Sept. 1, 2010. (Xinhua/Zhang Jun)

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday said that the United States is ready to seek a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, adding that direct talks are the "only path to lasting peace" in the Middle East.

The president made the remarks as he was delivering a statement to the press in Rose Garden, which borders the Oval Office and the West Wing of the White House.

"This path is open to the Israelis and Palestinians," Obama said, adding that the Middle East peace talks should help solve all final status issues and lead to a Palestinian state.

The U.S. government will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for direct negotiations starting on Sept. 2, the first direct talks between the two sides in about 20 months.

Since he took office in early 2009, Obama has made the Middle East peace process one of his top diplomatic priorities, as his administration believes solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict concerns the national interests of the United States.

"I urge Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to recognize this as a moment of opportunity that must be seized," Obama said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Obama met separately with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who will meet for direct talks on Thursday.

"The purpose of these talks is clear: this will be direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians," Obama said. "These negotiations are intended to solve all final status issues."

Obama has set an ambitious one-year timetable for the two sides to settle their long-standing final status issues -- borders of a new Palestinian State, security, refugees and the future of Jerusalem. The parameters and the solutions are well known from years of past peace talks, observers here said.

"This moment of opportunity may not soon come again," Obama said. "They cannot afford to let it slip away. Now is the time for leaders of courage and vision to deliver the peace that their people deserve."

At the same time, Obama acknowledged that it is not an easy job to help the Israelis and the Palestinians in reaching an agreement within a year, saying that "the hard job is just beginning."

To jump-start the peace process, Obama hosted Netanyahu and Abbas for separate meetings on Wednesday, to be followed by a dinner that will include Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah. The dinner represents the warm-up for formal negotiations on Thursday.

Obama spoke to the reporters here, standing shoulder to shoulder with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will relaunch the direct Israeli-Palestinian talks at the State Department on Thursday.

The Thursday talks will also be the first face-to-face meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu since the latter took office in April 2009, three months after the end of Israel's military operation in Gaza, which caused the direct talks to stop at the time.

The direct talks broke off in 2008 when Israel invaded the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip in retaliation for the military rocket fire on its south.

The new round of direct talks will be held against the backdrop that Abbas has said a peace agreement with Israel can be reached within one year, and Netanyahu has stated a peace agreement would be difficult but "possible."

There are many obstacles to success, most immediately among them the looming Sept. 26 expiration of a 10-month Israeli moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements. Palestinians see such construction as a key obstacle to statehood, observers said.

Source: Xinhua


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