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Gates Meets Jordan King Amid US Peace Push

By: Al Arabiya News Channel


United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates held talks with Jordan's King Abdullah on Monday amid a push by Washington to jumpstart Middle East peace talks that saw both him and Mideast envoy George Mitchell in Israel and Cairo.

"Finding a just solution to the Palestinian issue that would lead to the creation of an independent state is the basis for achieving peace and stability in the region," a palace statement quoted the king as telling Gates.

The king, who discussed with Gates "ways to boost bilateral defense cooperation" said the United States "plays a key role in efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in line with a two-state solution."

Gates was also to meet army chief General Khaled Sarayrah before holding a news conference.


Earlier in the day, Gates reassured Israel that Washington's bid to talk Iran into giving up nuclear work was time-sensitive and worth pursuing, despite Tehran's reticence.

But, Barak said, priority should be given to diplomacy and possibly tougher sanctions against Iran.

U.S. President Barack Obama has made fresh diplomatic engagement with Iran -- which denies seeking nuclear arms -- a centerpiece of his foreign policy.

Gates affirmed that the United States hoped for an Iranian response by September, saying the timeline "does not significantly increase the risks to anybody."

"I think that the president is certainly anticipating or hoping for some kind of response this fall, perhaps by the time of the U.N. General Assembly," Gates said.

For his part, Barak said the schedule for U.S.-led engagement with Iran should be kept short.

Mitchell in Cairo, Ramallah

Meanwhile, U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell appealed to Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states not to shy away from difficult or controversial steps towards peace in the region.

Mitchell told Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas that Washington is doing "everything we can to achieve a comprehensive peace."

"That includes between Israelis and Palestinians, between Syrians and Israelis between Israel and Lebanon, and the normalization of relations between Israel and all of the countries in the region," he said following the talks in Ramallah, the political capital of the occupied West Bank.

Mitchell said Israel must deal with "difficult issues like settlement and outposts," while the Palestinians need to "take action against incitement."

Backing up the envoy's call, the White House confirmed President Obama had recently sent letters to Arab governments urging confidence-building measures to create a climate for peace negotiations.

The written appeals for conciliatory moves, reportedly made to at least seven states in the region, coincided with U.S. officials lobbying Israel to freeze settlement activity on occupied territory.

Framework needed

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the Palestinian side told Mitchell that "in order to make the future round of negotiations successful we need to have a framework that can lead to a final resolution."

"Israel has failed to fulfill any of its roadmap obligations, including a settlement freeze, the reopening of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, removal of outposts, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the return to the situation as it was before September 2000."

Mitchell, who was to meet Netanyahu on Tuesday, held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier on Monday.

Egypt has been mediating unity talks between rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas as well as between Israel and Hamas for a prisoner swap to try to secure the release of an Israeli soldier held in Gaza.

Mitchell's meetings in Israel have also focused on the issue of settlements on occupied Palestinian land, one of the main stumbling blocks in the peace process.

Israel's refusal to heed U.S. demands to stop all settlement activity has seen tensions between the two allies rise to a level not seen in years.

Mitchell's and Gates' Mideast trips come as part of a diplomatic push that will also see National Security Advisor James Jones make a three-day trip beginning on Tuesday.

Obama is determined to reach a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors in order to guarantee "stability, security and prosperity" in the region, Mitchell said in Damascus.