WASHINGTON - The US administration was "obviously heartened" by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to "immediately" resume peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday.
"We're hopeful that the same goes for Mr. Abbas when we see him," added Gibbs. The Palestinian president is in Washington and is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary later this evening. He
will meet with President Barack Obama on Thursday.
Meanwhile Clinton said Obama had "made it very clear" to Netanyahu that he expects a total freeze in the settlements. "He wants to see a stop to settlements. Not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions," Clinton said on Wednesday during a visit by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.
"We think it is in the best interest of the effort that we are engaged in, that settlement expansion cease," 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 said.
Abbas has said that the Palestinians will not resume talks with Israel until the latter agrees to the two-state solution and freezes all construction in the settlements. The Palestinian president's decision to publicly toughen his stance has not been well received in Washington at a time when Obama is working to convince both sides to take trust-building steps.
Earlier Clinton's spokesman Ian Kelly confirmed that Middle East envoy George Mitchell held talks Tuesday with Israeli officials in London in a follow-up to Netanyahu's visit to the White House.
US officials have said they see tentative beginnings of a positive relationship with Netanyahu after he said his government would honor past agreements and the recent dismantling of several illegal outposts.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this report