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Thursday, May 28, 2009
Clinton: 'We're drafting proposal for ME peace'

'We're drafting proposal for ME peace'
May 27, 2009 15:24 | Updated May 28, 2009 8:05

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the United
States would present detailed plans on the peace process to the parties
as part of its efforts to jumpstart negotiations.

"We are going to be putting forward very specific proposals to the
Israelis and the Palestinians. That's what Senator Mitchell has been
doing over the last couple of days," Clinton said at a press conference
following her lunch meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul

Mitchell has been in London this week meeting with top Israeli officials
Dan Meridor, minister of intelligence services, and National Security
Council head Uzi Arad over issues including settlement activity and
Iran, in discussions the State Department characterized as a follow-up
to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington last week.

Though the Obama administration has pledged intensified Middle East
diplomacy since the beginning of its term, Clinton's comments went the
furthest to date in suggesting that the US would make its own proposals
for resolving the conflict that multiple American administration plans
have failed to resolve.

Such US initiative has been urged by Arab countries, beginning with
Jordan's King Abdullah during his own White House visit in April. At
that time he also said the Arab countries would themselves have to
contribute to the process, a theme Gheit echoed during Wednesday
afternoon's press conference.

"We have been discussing the need for an American major action to
expedite the process," he said. "We - all of us, the Quartet, the
international community, the Arab countries - [need] to show support and
understanding and to push them together, allow them to negotiate in
direct negotiations."

Greater participation has been a central piece of the US
administration's approach thus far, with Clinton stressing that "we've
also been reaching out to governments of Arab nations, asking what they
could be expected to do as we move forward to build confidence and to
create a good atmosphere for decisions to be made."

US officials see the Arab League peace plan as providing a possible
basis for negotiations. That plan calls for an Israeli withdrawal from
all land captured in the Six Day War, as well as a resolution on the
Palestinian refugee issue, in exchange for normalization with the entire
Arab world.

After meeting with Gheit, Clinton was set to host Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas that evening, as part of a three-day trip to
Washington that will culminate with an Oval Office visit Thursday afternoon.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was originally supposed to be received
at the White House as well this week, but canceled due to the sudden
death of his grandchild. He will meet with US President Barack Obama
next Thursday when the president makes a long-awaited speech to the
Muslim world.

The US administration is using these visits with Middle East leaders to
shore up support for its program and seek regional participation. On
Tuesday, Obama also added a stop in Saudi Arabia - the original authors
of the Arab peace plan - to the beginning of his overseas trip.

Nabil Abu Znaid, the head of the Palestinian Authority's mission to the
US, praised Obama's efforts and his "global" approach.

"I think that's why he wants to visit Saudi Arabia. He's visiting Egypt
and he wants to have lots of contacts with countries that can influence
the region," Abu Znaid said. "Peace would start between the Palestinians
and the Israelis... but we need help towards peace, not the other way.
So think the international community will help."

Obama is expected to discuss Iran, terrorism and oil with Saudi leaders,
as well as include them in the conversation over his emerging Middle
East peace plan. Though Saudi Arabia is a major regional force, it has
had a low profile during the Obama administration's first few months,
despite the flurry of activity regarding the region.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs spoke on Wednesday about the
importance of addressing the peace effort with the Saudis but said that
it was not an effort to iron out details of a major plan to be announced
at Obama's Cairo speech.

"I think he's going to discuss elements of how to bring about peace in
the Middle East. But the Cairo speech is not intended to lay out some
detailed map for how one gets to that," he said.

Gibbs also said the administration was "heartened" by Netanyahu's
comments about resuming talks, adding, "We're hopeful that the same goes
for Mr. Abbas when we see him on Thursday."

Abu Znaid said that, in addition to pressing for a negotiating process
that has a defined timeframe leading to the creation of a Palestinian
state, Abbas would also tell Obama that "we'd like to see something on
the ground, especially with settlements."

During Wednesday's press conference, Clinton stressed the US position
that settlement construction must stop, even though Netanyahu has
indicated "natural growth" in major blocs was set continue.

"The president was very clear when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here. He
wants to see a stop to settlements - not some settlements, not outposts,
not natural growth exceptions," she said. "That is our position, that is
what we have communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis, but to
the Palestinians and others. And we intend to press that point."

She did not elaborate on what the administration had in mind when she
referenced "very specific proposals," saying only, "We are making a very
concerted effort. We have a well thought-out approach that we are
pursuing. We have a lot of support from countries such as Egypt, but
ultimately this is up to the two parties."

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