WASHINGTON – Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) will resume within weeks, Israeli officials estimated after Tuesday's meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama at the White House.
Sources in the Obama Administration said Netanyahu and Obama explored ways to advance direct talks and discussed extending the temporary construction moratorium in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The issue was not mentioned to reporters, a possible indication that the two leaders reached a silent agreement according to which Israel will not be obligated to announce the extension formally.
The construction freeze is set to end in late September.
During the 40-minute meeting at the Oval Office, Netanyahu said as things stand now, Israel is being asked to make concessions while the Palestinians' seriousness regarding the core issues (i.e. Jerusalem, refugees and permanent borders) has yet to be evaluated.
The Israeli premier said in case direct talks are launched, the PA will be asked to clarify its position on the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the end of the conflict.
According to the PM, the West Bank construction moratorium is just one example of a unilateral Israeli measure.
Netanyahu (L) and Obama at White House (Photo: AFP)
Also Tuesday, Obama warned that attempts to single out Israel over its undeclared nuclear program could scupper a Middle East regional nuclear conference planned for 2012.
Obama delivered the warning in a statement about his talks with Netanyahu, in which he gave Israel a veiled, but public assurance over its strategic nuclear ambiguity.
"The President emphasized that the conference will only take place if all countries feel confident that they can attend, and that any efforts to single out Israel will make the prospects of convening such a conference unlikely," the statement said.
Obama also agreed to work with Israel to oppose any efforts to single out the Jewish state at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in September.
Israeli officials accompanying Netanyahu said the statement was indicative of improved working relations between the two leaders.
After his Oval Office talks, Obama told reporters that he had "reiterated" to Netanyahu that there was "no change in US policy" on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
"We strongly believe that, given its size, its history, the region that it's in, and the threats that are leveled against us -- against it, that Israel has unique security requirements.
"It's got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that's why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel's security."
Israeli officials said no other American president has ever made such a clear statement regarding Israel's nuclear ambiguity.
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Obama said Israel "wants peace" and is serious about its intentions to move forward to direct negotiations with the Palestinians.
He added that the meeting "marked just one more chapter in the extraordinary friendship between our two countries".
Netanyahu reiterated that Israel is "committed" to peace with the Palestinians and said any reports of the demise of the US-Israeli relationship are "flat wrong."
AFP contributed to the report
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