The United States blocked an initiative by Britain, France and Germany to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks by proposing the outlines of a final settlement to their long conflict, UN diplomats and a US official said Monday.
The three European countries wanted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the European Union to propose a settlement text at a meeting of the Quartet of Mideast mediators the US, UN, EU and Russia tentatively scheduled to take place Friday in Berlin on the sidelines of a NATO ministerial meeting, the diplomats said.
But a US official said the Obama administration didn't think a Quartet meeting would produce anything useful in terms of getting the talks restarted. "It wasn't the right time," the official said.
A European diplomat expressed regret that the meeting was postponed, saying it was time for a strong signal from the Quartet to try to get talks moving since US efforts have failed.
Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the secretary-general will be traveling in the coming days "but there's no announcement of a Quartet meeting to make at present."
'Europe failed to reignite talks'
Israeli state officials said Tuesday that by postponing the meeting the US was taking control of the process after the European states failed to reignite negotiations.
It is estimated that efforts to form a US-backed Israeli peace plan will get into motion in the coming weeks. "The Europeans failed in trying to renew talks and bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table," one state official said.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority said it was not officially informed about the postponement. Saeb Erekat said the decision was regretful and sent a negative message. He warned the delay was allowing Israel to build more settlements "in a way that ruins any chance for peace."
The Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to President Barack Obama's target date of September 2011 for an agreement, but negotiations collapsed weeks after they restarted last September following the expiry of an Israeli settlement construction slowdown. The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel halts settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, which the Palestinians want for their future state.
Israel maintains that the Palestinians should not be setting conditions for talks and note that in the past, they have negotiated while settlement construction continued.
The US veto on Feb. 18 of a Security Council resolution that would have condemned "illegal" Israeli settlements and demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building spurred Britain, France and Germany, who supported the measure, to issue a joint statement expressing serious concern about the stalemate in the Middle East peace process.
Since the US efforts have been unsuccessful, diplomats said, the three European powers decided to try a new approach in pressing for a substantial declaration from the Quartet that would outline a peace solution, including borders, in hopes of breaking the deadlock.
But having the EU and UN take the lead would sideline the United States, Israel's closest ally which has tried unsuccessfully for months to get face-to-face negotiations going, as well as Russia, an ally of the Palestinians.
Britain, France and Germany had been pressing key capitals including Washington and Jerusalem to support a new EU and UN initiative in the Quartet.
The US decision to delay the meeting is certain to irritate the three key US allies.
In place of the Quartet meeting, foreign ministers of Britain, Germany, Italy, France and the United States will hold a meeting of the so-called "Quint," a five-nation panel that deals with Kosovo and broader Balkans issues, the US official said.
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