US: Decision to halt freeze talks recognition of reality
State Department spokesman says attempts to persuade Israel to stop settlement construction dropped because issue 'became an end in itself rather than means to an end,' adding that administration will 'try to begin to make progress on core issues themselves'
US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell will head back to the region next week after Obama administration officials vowed on Wednesday to continue the push for peace despite a breakdown in direct negotiations.
"Senator Mitchell will go back to the region next week to consult," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.
US diplomacy would continue despite Tuesday's decision to give up efforts to halt Jewish settlements, effectively ending a bid to revive direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, he said.
Crowley said the US believed that direct negotiations will still be necessary to resolve the Mideast conflict, and would discuss with both sides what the best way might be to bring them to the table.
"I would describe this as a change in tactics, not a change in strategy," Crowley said.
US officials said on Tuesday they had dropped efforts to persuade Israel to stop settlement construction on captured land that Palestinians seek for a state. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this was crucial for direct talks to resume.
The decision was a setback for President Barack Obama, who launched direct talks between the two in September, who saw them quickly run aground over the settlement issue.
Crowley said the US decision on settlements marked a recognition of reality.
"We thought that this had in a sense become an end in itself rather than become a means to an end," Crowley said.
"We're going to focus on the substance and try to begin to make progress on the core issues themselves, and we think that will create the kind of momentum that we need to see to get to sustained negotiations."
Crowley had no immediate details on Mitchell's itinerary, which appeared to signal a return to the indirect "shuttle" diplomacy that has long marked the Mideast peace process.
"I'm not anticipating that we would have Israelis and Palestinians in the same room at this time," Crowley said.
Crowley said the US continued to view further Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate. He said the impasse over settlements had also halted separate US discussions of a possible security package for Israel which Washington had hoped might help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a settlement deal politically.
"At this time we are not pursuing a settlement moratorium and we're not pursuing that kind of discussion with the Israelis," Crowley said.
US officials said on Tuesday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would visit Washington next week for further consultations, and Crowley said these may take place in parallel with Mitchell's talks in the region.
"We expect to have discussions with senior representatives on both sides, we are still working to set those up," Crowley said.
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