WASHINGTON - Israeli officials continued their talks with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell Wednesday, despite failing to reach a breakthrough at the three-way US-Israeli-Palestinian meeting at the United Nations last week.
Netanyahu's envoy on the Palestinian issue, Yitzhak Molcho, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's chief of staff, Michael Herzog, were meeting with Mitchell at press time. They were due to return to Israel the next day, after arriving in Washington earlier Wednesday.
Separately on Thursday, Mitchell is set to meet with Palestinian negotiators.
The meetings are a follow-up to last week's trilateral session on the sidelines of the UN, in which US President Barack Obama urged both sides to begin final-status talks as soon as possible.
The US has continued to state that it would like to see all sides - Israelis, Palestinians and their Arab neighbors - take steps that would lay a foundation for the resumption of talks, but publicly is focusing more on resuming talks regardless of such moves since Mitchell was unable to broker such a package after several rounds of talks over the summer.
"We haven't set anything aside," State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said Wednesday, ahead of Mitchell's meeting. "We do believe that the Israelis, Palestinians and other countries in the region need to take affirmative steps which create the conditions for a successful negotiation."
He added that "we are also interested in getting to negotiations as rapidly as possible, as the president, the secretary and George Mitchell emphasized last week."
The US would still like to see a package emerge that could be announced in concert with new negotiations, with Mitchell continuing to work toward that goal.
Obama has given mid-October as a deadline for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report on the progress of this undertaking, with negotiations potentially starting soon after that.