Obama: Progress made in peace talks

White House says gaps have narrowed, next step - direct talks.

obama 311.187 (photo credit: AP)
obama 311.187
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama will try to accelerate the prospects of face-to-face peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians when he meets Tuesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, White House officials said Friday.
Obama's latest personal venture into the Middle East situation comes after his special envoy, George Mitchell, shuttled for weeks between the two sides in search of common ground. The White House hopes to pivot from these so-called proximity talks to direct negotiations between the parties, and soon.
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"The gaps have narrowed," Daniel Shapiro, senior Middle East director at the National Security Council, told reporters on Friday. "And we believe there are opportunities to further narrow those gaps, to allow the sides to take that next step to the direct talks. And so we're encouraged."
The White House is billing that effort as the primary thrust of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, one that also will cover efforts to halt Iran's apparent pursuit of nuclear weaponry, conflict in the Gaza Strip and other regional security challenges. The session will be the fifth between the two leaders, and will be watched closely.
This was the Netanyahu visit that was supposed to happen on June 1, but the meeting was scuttled after Israel's deadly raid on May 31 on a flotilla aiming to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The raid caused an international uproar, injecting new tensions into Israel's relations with the United States and other allies.
In previewing the Netanyahu visit, White House national security officials sought to emphasize that US-Israeli cooperation is strong, and momentum is building. "In no way do we perceive a rift," Shapiro said when asked about the view that the relationship had weakened under Obama.
Netanyahu has called for direct talks with Palestinians to begin again. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli reporters this week that the borders of a future Palestinian state and security relations with Israel are the two issues on the table, and that if an agreement on them is reached, direct talks can resume.
Obama, meanwhile, has committed to "spend a lot of time and energy and political capital" on keeping the two sides moving toward a breakthrough, as he told Abbas in their own Oval Office meeting on June 9. He has urged Israel to curb disputed settlement activity and to recognize progress on security from the Palestinians; Obama says Palestinians must show more gains in security and must end incitement against Israel.