American officials made progress on Wednesday in their efforts to draft a statement that will initiate direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Israeli diplomatic officials said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s associates have been working closely with the US on the exact wording of the statement that will soon be published. They said the American statement would serve as the basis for the talks and not an expected statement of the Middle East Quartet – the US, Russia, European Union and United Nations.

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In an interview with Israel Radio in Athens at the culmination of his twoday state visit to Greece, Netanyahu downplayed the Quartet statement, which was expected earlier this week and now is unlikely to be released before Monday, following the return of UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon from a vacation.

“I have been calling for direct talks for a year and a half and I hope we will soon achieve them,” Netanyahu said. “The Quartet can say many things. It can say things we accept or do not accept. That’s what’s happened before, and it will again. But the talks must take place without preconditions.”


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to work on the statements of the US and the Quartet on Thursday, when she visits the UN to take part in a fund-raising event for Pakistani flood victims.

In his monthly press briefing, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco of Argentina called for talks, but he did not set a deadline for the creation of a Palestinian state as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded.

“We hope that the leaders on both sides will seize this opportunity and engage in a path of decisive progress toward a sustainable, mutually acceptable, two-state solution within a realistic time frame,” Fernandez- Taranco said.

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