Mitchell, advancing talks
Photo: Reuters
Israeli PM Netanyahu, can breath easy
Photo: AP
US not considering sanctions against Israel
Top State Department spokesman rebuffs speculations that President Obama contemplating imposing economic sanctions, international pressure on Israel if it fails to comply with demands to halt settlement construction. Says deputy spokesman's remarks in the regard 'misinterpreted'

The US State Department stressed on Friday that President Barack Obama was not considering imposing economic sanctions on Israel or applying international pressure to put an end to construction in settlements.


The announcement was made following a public storm in Israel caused by controversial comments by a government spokesperson.


Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood, who was asked on Wednesday during a press briefing whether the US administration was considering imposing sanctions on Israel if it continued to build in the Palestinians territories, said, "It's premature to talk about that."


"What we're trying to do," he continued, "is to create an environment which makes it conducive for talks to go forward."


Wood's statements sparked broad media coverage in Israel, and in response, senior State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said Wood's remarks had been "misinterpreted".


"We are not contemplating such action," Crowley said, adding that "clearly, this is why George Mitchell is in the region today talking to all of the parties that we believe what they need to do is to set conditions, to resume negotiations so that all of these issues can be resolved through peaceful negotiations."


Mitchell will arrive on Sunday for a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. His talks with Israel are slated to center on the dispute with the US regarding settlement construction and the question of natural growth, as the Palestinians have conditioned the renewal of talks on Israel completely freezing all construction.


Before his stop in Israel, Mitchell will head off for his second visit to Syria and meet with Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.


Crowley said Mitchell would discuss a range of bilateral issues with Damascus, his second visit there in as many months as the Obama administration's special envoy to the region.


"Obviously, we're trying see what Syria's prepared to do, to move toward a comprehensive (peace process) process," said Crowley, who had no further details on the trip.


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