Obama: It's enough talking about talking

Its enough talking abo

The Obama administration is growing increasingly frustrated with Israeli and Palestinian foot-dragging over peace negotiations, which it wants to see relaunched immediately and based on previous agreements and principles laid out in earlier talks. "We're not going to be starting from scratch," a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post, following three-way talks held by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "There's a body of agreements and basic principles" to build on, he said. The Obama administration has until now been vague about how it sees such a process going and what frameworks would govern the talks. But Obama called for immediate final-status talks at the beginning of Tuesday's trilateral meeting, telling the press, "Permanent-status negotiations must begin, and begin soon." The senior official described Obama as having expressed his "impatience" over the need to start negotiations during his separate one-on-one meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas earlier in the day. "It's enough talking about talking, and it's time to get started as soon as possible," he said. While he pointed to the previous formulas as providing a framework for the talks - something the Obama administration has until now refrained from staking out - the senior official added that "neither side should hold out for the perfect formula." US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who spoke to reporters following the meetings, said the mechanisms of the negotiations were still being worked out and would be part of the discussions set for the coming weeks. "We anticipate that there will be an active United States presence," he indicated, but added, "Of course that does not preclude the likelihood of direct negotiations between the parties. No successful negotiation is all of one and all the other. There has to be both, in appropriate circumstances on appropriate subjects." Though Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is ready to restart talks, with the Palestinians demanding that Jerusalem completely freeze settlement construction before negotiations begin, the US official said that "both sides have been holding out for different things before the talks can start," and noted that in his meetings, Obama had taken both sides to task for not moving forward more quickly. The US had been hoping to announce the resumption of negotiations as part of this week's three-way event, but it became clear the sides were too far apart for that to happen. Mitchell, who has been meeting with the sides and is set to speak to them again next week, said the administration had gone ahead with the trilateral meeting anyway to show Obama's commitment to the issue and the "urgency" with which he saw it. Mitchell described Tuesday's conversations, in which he participated, as "cordial," "direct" and "frank," as well as occasionally "blunt on all sides." Washington had been pushing Israel to freeze settlement construction while the Palestinians clamped down on incitement and reformed their security services, and in exchange for gestures from Arab states that didn't have relations with Israel. Mitchell said that conversations on settlements and other issues were continuing, but that the United States had never seen settlements as the only obstacle or a settlement freeze as a precondition for talks starting. "There are many obstacles. [Settlements] are one. It's not the only one," Mitchell said. "We are not identifying any issue as being a precondition or an impediment to negotiation. What we have said is that we want to get into negotiations," he continued, describing the settlement freeze and other US "requests" on all sides as ones that would "create the most favorable conditions available to try to achieve success in those negotiations." Mitchell stressed, however, that the US had moved the process significantly forward and that officials expected the sides to move forward with talks. "While differences remain between them, we have made very substantial progress," he said. "It's difficult to disentangle ourselves from history, but we must do so. The only reason to hold public office is to get things done. We all must take risks for peace. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is critical to Israel's security, and it's necessary for Palestinians to realize their aspirations." "We actually think we're close, but we have more work to do," the senior administration official told the Post.