US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday urged Arab nations to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel and supporting the Palestinians in an effort to help restart stalled Mideast peace talks.
Clinton made the case with senior officials from Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The session followed President Barack Obama's talks this past week with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
She declined comment on the substance of her discussions, but told reporters afterward that the talks were "extremely productive."
However officials said the Obama administration wants Arab states to make "tangible" and "credible" goodwill gestures toward Israel and provide political and economic support to Abbas to lay the groundwork for a resumption in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, officials say.
Among the gestures toward Israel that US has suggesting are opening trade and commercial offices, allowing Israeli aircraft overflight rights and promoting academic and cultural exchanges.
Thus far, most have resisted, demanding that Israel first make concessions, including a total settlement freeze, which Netanyahu has refused despite heavy US pressure.
Even in the absence of such a step, US officials say the Arabs should act.
"We don't want to have the perfect be the enemy of the good," said Jeffrey Feltman, the top US diplomat for the Middle East. "We don't want to wait for the perfect package. It's time to start negotiations now."
"We hope that the Arabs would find ways to demonstrate to the Israeli public that Israel will be an accepted, normalized part of the region," he told reporters ahead of Clinton's meeting. He added that Arab financial and moral support for the Palestinians also was critical.
"We would hope that the Arabs would find ways to support President Abbas and his team as they go into negotiations," Feltman said.