Mitchell invites Netanyahu to meet with Obama
US president's special Mideast envoy returns to Israel following prime minister's clarifications and commitments over Jerusalem construction, delivers official White House invitation. Defense Minister Barak says hopes for direct negotiations with Palestinians
US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell returned to Israel on Sunday and delivered an official invitation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington.
The prime minister will leave for the United States on Sunday evening and is expected to meet with the American president on Tuesday.
In light of the slated meeting with Obama, the Prime Minister's Office is considering changing the prime minister's travel plans and foregoing Netanyahu's visit to Belgium, where he was slated to meet with European heads of state, in favor of a round of meetings with senior senators and congressmen.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, during whose visit to Israel the controversy surrounding the construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo erupted. Netanyahu will also meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
On Sunday afternoon, Mitchell met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem. Barak said after the meeting, "I expressed my appreciation of the efforts despite the difficulties, with the support of the Obama administration, for talks which will eventually lead to an agreement for the sake of the entire region."
Mitchell said, "It's a pleasure to be back in Israel again." He stressed that the defense minister was a close friend of the United States and that the relations between the two countries was "strong and enduring".
Meeting at King David Hotel (Photo: Ariel Hermoni, Defense Ministry)
According to the envoy, the American commitment to Israel's security is "unshakeable and unbreakable". He said a full range of issues were discussed during the meeting.
"Our shared goal is the resumption of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, in an environment in which they can result in an agreement that ends the conflict and resolves all permanent status issues. We hope to get proximity talks underway in full course, as a means to get to direct negotiations as soon as possible," Mitchell concluded.
The defense minister added, "We are hoping for direct negotiations. We have seen ups and downs over the past few weeks, but I am certain that the American administration will help us overcome all of the obstacles and sit face-to-face in order to reach a comprehensive agreement in the region."
At the end of the defense minister's statement, Mitchell and Barak moved on to a festive lunch at the King David Hotel in the capital.
The price Israel would have to pay following the crisis with the US was reported Saturday. Ahead of Netanyahu's departure to Washington on Sunday evening for an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in Washington, Israel and the US agreed that the core issues would be included in indirect talks with the Palestinians, construction in east Jerusalem will be delayed and Israel will ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The agreement was reached following the diplomatic crisis, which broke out following an a plan to build 1,600 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, which was announced during US Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel.
Shmulik Grossman contributed to this report