Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Hard work" settling dispute with Obama: Israel

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan
PARIS (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he hoped to reach understanding with the United States but an official said "hard work" was needed to heal a rift over Jewish settlement growth in the West Bank.
A senior Israeli official who traveled with Netanyahu to Paris, where he met French President Nicolas Sarkozy but canceled a meeting with a top U.S. envoy, said "a lot of hard work" was needed to reach common ground with Washington on the settlement issue.
U.S. President Barack Obama wants Netanyahu to declare a total settlement freeze in the occupied West Bank, territory where Palestinians hope to establish a state.
Netanyahu has said he intends to build further within existing blocs to accommodate what he calls "natural growth" in settler families.
Speaking after his talks with Sarkozy, Netanyahu told reporters that differences could occur "among the best of friends" and said Israel was in the process of clarifying its settlement policy to Washington.
Western diplomats said the abrupt cancellation of Netanyahu's planned meeting in Paris on Thursday with Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, underscored the difficulty both sides faced bridging their differences.
Mitchell will meet instead with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington next Monday. "I asked for the postponement of the meeting," Netanyahu said about the talks he had planned to hold with Mitchell in the French capital.
"Mr. Mitchell agreed immediately. We believed we had to clarify several issues and statistics. The defense minister will do this on Monday in the United States," Netanyahu said.
"We will continue the contacts, with goodwill and with the intention of reaching understanding that will advance a peace process -- a diplomatic process between us and the Palestinians, and I hope between us and the rest of the Arab world."
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly called the decision for Mitchell to meet Barak before Netanyahu a "joint decision." He said a Netanyahu meeting with the U.S. envoy had not yet been rescheduled.
Kelly said there had been a "change of thinking" but gave no specifics.
Israel's differences with the U.S. over settlement policy seemed to overshadow Netanyahu's three-day visit to Europe.
French and Italian leaders also prodded him to resolve the dispute over settlements, though the Israeli leader characterized the tone of their meetings as "warm."
In Paris, Sarkozy "urged Israel to take, without delay, all possible measures to encourage trust, starting with a complete freeze on settlements," a statement from the French leader's office said. Continued...
Source: Reuters

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