311_Netanyahu, Clinton cat claw, Abbas and Mitchell.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON - Israelis and Palestinians agreed to work out a framework agreement in the coming months as a first step to a peace treaty, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell announced Thursday.
Mitchell stressed that the framework would not be an "interim agreement" - which the Palestinians have long resisted - but tackle all of the core issues at the heart of the conflict.
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"The purpose of a framework agreement will be to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable them to flesh out and complete a comprehensive treaty that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians," he told reporters during the first day of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians in 20 months.
The parties also agreed Thursday to hold another round of talks in mid-September.
The decision to begin work on a framework agreement - on the way to resolving all of the core issues within the one-year timeline laid out by the United States - is the first concrete decision to come out of the new round of negotiations.
They began with statements by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas in the Benjamin Franklin room at the State Department before the three held a plenary session with their staffs and then broke into a smaller session consisting of just Clinton, Mitchell, Netanyahu and Abbas in her private office. After that, Netanyahu and Abbas held a one-on-one discussion before being rejoined by their staffs.
Mitchell described the relationship between the two men as "cordial," adding, "I felt it was a very positive and constructive mood, both in terms of the nature of the interaction and in terms of the nature of the conversation that occurred." Mitchell declined to go into detail about the topics covered but did say that there was mention of core issues. He didn't spell out what they were, but they are generally understood to include security, borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.
However, Mitchell cautioned that he wasn't suggesting that "a detailed
and extended discussion or debate on these specific substantive issues"
occurred during the talks.
He did note that another trilateral team had already convened to sort
out the details of the next meeting, which is set to talk place on
September 14 and 15 in the region.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who visited Washington on Wednesday
along with King Abdullah of Jordan to lend support to the nascent
process, said that he would be willing to host the parties for another
round of talks.
Many speculate they are likely to be held at the resort of Sharm el-Sheik.
In addition to more frequent lower-level meetings, Mitchell indicated
that Abbas and Netanyahu would meet personally around every two weeks, a
schedule first proposed by Netanyahu.
The mid-September talks will include Clinton and Mitchell.