Obama wants progress, says 'we can't talk forever'

US president urges sides to make progress on the ground, saying that "we can't talk forever."

obama 248.88 press conference (photo credit: AP [file])
obama 248.88 press conference
(photo credit: AP [file])
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged Israelis and Palestinians to take concrete steps toward peace, saying that "we can't talk forever," and that he expected to see progress on the ground in the coming months. "What we want to do is to step back from the abyss," he told reporters at a White House press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan. "It's going to require that we create some concrete steps that all parties can take that are evidence of that resolution. And the United States is going to deeply engage in this process to see if we can make progress." Obama declined to detail what measures he had in mind, saying merely that "the parties in the region probably have a pretty good recognition of what intermediate steps could be taken as confidence-building measures." But he did say that "at some point, steps have to be taken so that people can see progress on the ground. And that will be something that we will expect to take place in the coming months and we will help hopefully to drive a process where each side is willing to build confidence." Many Israeli observers have been concerned that the Obama administration will pressure Israel to freeze settlement growth, take down road blocks and even open the border with the Gaza Strip, despite the government's unwillingness to do so for political and security reasons. Since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office, there have also been differences with the US over the prospect of reaching a settlement with the Palestinians, as the new prime minister has been reluctant to endorse a Palestinian state. In keeping with recent statements by American officials, Obama said, "I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution. I have articulated that publicly and I will articulate that privately." At the same time, he made an oblique reference to Netanyahu's difficult political position, in which his heavily right-wing coalition imposes constraints on how far he can go in reaching out to the Palestinians. "The Israelis now have had a government for a few weeks and it was a very complicated process for them to put a coalition together," Obama said, adding that "more listening still needs to be done" by his envoy, George Mitchell. Obama also noted that he expected to have meetings in the United States soon, when Netanyahu visits. Abdullah was the first Middle East leader to be received by Obama, and the White House has invited Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to come for separate meetings over the coming weeks, spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. Abdullah welcomed Obama's involvement in the Middle East peace process and his support for the Arab peace plan. He also praised his outreach to Arabs and Muslims. "It has gone on extremely well and really begins, I believe, a new page of mutual respect and mutual understanding between cultures," he said. Abdullah's visit came as a representative of a united Arab front seeking progress on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including a reaffirmation of the Arab League peace plan offering a comprehensive peace. Obama spoke warmly of the plan following his meeting with Abdullah, noting, "We have gone out of our way to complement the efforts of those Arab states that were involved in formulating the Arab Peace Initiative as a very constructive start." The meeting also touched on the economic crisis, the war in Afghanistan, and the threat of terrorism and Iran. Asked about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hostile words toward Israel at the UN-sponsored World Conference Against Racism in Geneva Monday, where he called the Jewish state a "most cruel and oppressive, racist regime," Obama strongly condemned his comments. "I found many of the statements that President Ahmadinejad made, particularly those directed at Israel, to be appalling and objectionable," he said. But he added that they wouldn't affect his policy of engagement toward Teheran, even as he suggested that Ahmadinejad's speech had set back Iran's cause. "There's no doubt that the kind of rhetoric you saw from Ahmadinejad is not helpful. In fact, it is harmful - but not just with respect to the possibility of US-Iranian relations; I think it actually undermines Iranians' position in the world as a whole," Obama said. "But we are going to continue to take an approach that tough, direct diplomacy has to be pursued without taking a whole host of other options off the table."