Friday, January 8, 2010

Clinton vows to start Mideast talks 'without preconditions'; Mitchell expected to bring Guarantee letters

(AFP, NYT).US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday said she was working to restart peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis "without preconditions."

"We are working with the Israelis, the (Palestinian Authority), and the Arab states to take the steps needed to relaunch the negotiations as soon as possible and without preconditions," she said.

Clinton made the comments at a joint press conference with her Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh, who is Washington for talks.

Clinton expressed hope that Israelis and Palestinians could agree "on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state... and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders."

Both Clinton and Judeh spoke out against new Israeli housing construction in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their capital, saying it was damaging to the process.

Their comments came as the Obama administration's special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell prepares to visit Europe next week and Israel and the Palestinian territories later this month to try to relaunch stalled negotiations. Mitchell will visit Paris and Brussels first to build support for the approach from European officials.

When he travels to the region, Mitchell is expected to be carrying letters of ''guarantees'' outlining the U.S. position.

The letters are likely to contain gestures to both sides. For the Palestinians, that would include criticism of settlements and the belief that the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War should be the basis of a future peace deal.

For the Israelis, they would acknowledge that post-1967 demographic changes on the ground must be taken into account, meaning that Israel would be able to keep some settlements.

Clinton did not address the letters in her remarks. But she said the administration wanted a resolution that meets both the Palestinian goal of a clearly defined and viable state based on the borders that existed before the 1967 war ''with agreed swaps'' and the Israeli goal of security within boundaries that ''reflect subsequent developments.''

''There is a hunger for a resolution of this matter, a two-state solution that would rebuke the terrorists and the naysayers, that would give the Palestinians a legitimate state for their own aspirations and would give the Israelis the security they deserve to have,'' she said.

''This is a year of renewed commitment and increased effort towards what we see as an imperative goal for the region and the world,'' Clinton said.