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August 19, 09

NEWS / U.S., Egypt Working to Restart Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington — President Obama says that he and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are working to jump-start resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

“We obviously have a lot of great challenges that have to be dealt with, and we are continuing to work together to find those areas where we can find common ground and to work in concert to bring peace and security to the region,” Obama said August 18 after an extended meeting with Mubarak, who had not been to Washington for consultations since 2003.

“The Arab-Israeli situation is something that has been of ongoing interest, and we had an extensive conversation about how we could help to jump-start an effective process on all sides to move away from a status quo that is not working for the Israeli people, the Palestinian people or, I think, the region as a whole,” Obama said.

While the two leaders held wide-ranging talks, the Middle East peace process, a strategic goal of the Obama administration, was at center stage in the discussions. Obama met with Mubarak June 4 in Cairo when Obama delivered an address to Muslims worldwide from Cairo University, and again in Italy for the G8 talks.

“We discussed our common concerns about the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, including the development of nuclear weapons by Iran, and how we could work together on those fronts,” Obama said.

The two leaders also discussed Iraq and focused on ways to strengthen Iraq as it emerges from a wartime footing in a transition to a more stable political and economic environment. Obama said the two also discussed working together to promote the interests of Americans and Egyptians on economic development issues, education issues and health issues.

“And just to take one example, we have agreed to work together with the Organization of Islamic States to eradicate polio, something that we’ve been able to successfully deal with here in the United States, but [which] still has an impact on populations throughout the Muslim communities around the world,” Obama said.

Mubarak praised Obama’s June speech to Muslims, saying that it eliminated all doubt about how the United States views the Muslim world. “The importance of the Cairo visit was very appreciated by the Muslim and Islamic world because the Islamic world had thought that the U.S. was against Islam, but his great, fantastic address there has removed all those doubts,” Mubarak said through an interpreter.

“We have perhaps focused greatly on the Palestinian issue because it’s the pivotal issue, and the Palestinian issue has impact on the world, on the region, whether for the West or also for the United States,” Mubarak added.

Asked about reports that the Israeli government has not granted any permits for building new settlements in the West Bank territories, Obama said that there has been movement in the right direction.

“I came in from the start saying that all parties concerned had to take some concrete steps to restart serious negotiations, to resolve what has been a long-standing conflict that is not good for the Israeli people and is not good for its neighbors,” Obama said. “And I think that the Israeli government has taken discussions with us very seriously.”

Obama said he will be sending Special Envoy George Mitchell back to the region in a week to encourage talks on an array of issues.

And Obama said he is encouraged by reports that some checkpoints in the West Bank area have been removed, that Palestinian Authority security forces have improved and have been able to deal with security concerns in the West Bank, and that there has been some increased economic activity in the West Bank.

“This is creating a climate in which it’s possible for us to see some positive steps and hopefully negotiate toward a final resolution of these long-standing issues,” Obama said.

“Everybody’s going to have to take steps. Everybody’s going to have to take some risks,” he added.

Mubarak said he has had some discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials. “We are speaking in a good manner, and we are moving into the right direction,” he said. But he added that negotiations of a final status agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians will not be easy. “That’s why I came today,” he said, “to talk to President Obama and to see that if we move forward on this issue, we will give more hope and more confidence to the people about this issue.”

Mubarak also met for about an hour on August 17 with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in preparation for the White House meeting. Their talks ranged from bilateral issues to regional security and a number of global issues in which Egypt and the United States are engaged, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley said.


Tags: secretary of state,


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