311_ Hillary Clinton hand gesture.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON— The Obama administration invited opposition leader Tzipi Livni to Washington on Friday as part of a new strategy for salvaging the US-led Middle East peace talks, less than a week after dropping an effort to persuade Israel to impose a temporary freeze on some settlement activity.
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US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton planned talks with senior officials from both sides in advance of an evening speech to a Washington think tank on the administration's plans for the way forward.
In addition to Livni, Clinton was scheduled to meet with Palestinian
Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb
Erekat and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
On Thursday, Clinton held lengthy talks with Israel's chief negotiator
Yitzhak Molcho. The administration's special Mideast envoy George
Mitchell will travel to the region next week.
The effort comes just days after the United States dropped its bid to
persuade Israel to renew a freeze in West Bank settlement construction, a
key Palestinian demand for returning to the talks stalled since an
earlier slowdown expired in late September. The change in approach
followed months of grueling diplomacy that, administration officials
say, led them to conclude the focus on settlements over strong Israeli
objections was a distraction from dealing with core issues such as
security and borders.
Emerging from the State Department after his talks with Clinton,
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat blamed the Israeli government for the
breakdown in talks and said the Palestinians would continue to consult
with the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and the
Arab League on how to proceed.
"They are alone responsible for the derailment of the peace process,"
Erekat told reporters. "The Israeli government had a choice between
settlements and peace and they chose settlements." He said the
Palestinian position was unchanged and offered no predictions as to what
might be next.
In her speech to the Brookings Institution, part of a conference that
also will feature Fayyad and Barak, Clinton is expected to express
disappointment at the failure of the administration's efforts to date.
She is expected to say, however, that US President Barack Obama and his
administration have not given up and will aggressively pursue a peace
US officials say their hope is to make progress on security issues and
toward setting a final border between Israel and a future Palestinian
state in separate talks with the two sides, planning to pave the way for
resumption of direct negotiations and an ultimate peace deal.
Officials said they expect Clinton to highlight the importance of
security and borders in her speech and appeal for the parties to prepare
to discuss those matters in depth with American officials in the coming
US envoy George Mitchell is to leave early next week for the Middle East
for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He also will visit
neighboring Arab states.