George Mitchell Calls For Peace Among Middle East Nations
US Special Middle East ambassador George Mitchell Monday called on Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states to take steps to promote a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, calling it one of President Barack Obama's "top priorities".
"We believe that a full, comprehensive peace presents the best way for all the people of the region to achieve the security, peace and prosperity all its citizens deserve," he told reporters in Cairo after meeting Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.
He urged a "prompt" return to "successful negotiations".
Speaking later in Jerusalem after meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres, Mitchell outlined the steps Washington expected the sides to take.
Palestinians, he said, had to expand and improve their security forces, and "refrain from any words or deeds that may make it more difficult to move quickly toward successful negotiations".
Israel, for its part, had to improve Palestinian freedom of movement and economic growth, and deal with "difficult issues like settlement and (unauthorised) outposts".
Arab states, he added, had to take "meaningful" steps toward normalising relations with the Jewish state.
He said that both Israel and the Palestinians had "taken meaningful action" and "made significant strides" toward carrying out the steps required of them.
Mitchell returned to this theme Monday evening, after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, saying that for the goal of a comprehensive peace to be reached, all parties "should take steps to make possible an early return to meaningful negotiations and a prompt resolution of these negotiations".
The envoy had arrived in Cairo Sunday night, in an unscheduled stop after meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv. Speaking from Cairo on Monday, he again called on Middle Eastern countries to normalise their relations with Israel.
Mitchell said he would be meeting leaders in the region "to encourage them to take meaningful steps toward normalisation".
But, he noted, "We don't expect anyone to take steps toward full normalisation at this time; we expect this will come further down the road in this process".
He said his efforts were now focused on preparing "the context" for meaningful negotiations soon, based on "mutual respect and mutual interests".
The tour of the region was part of a US diplomatic blitz to restart negotiations for a "comprehensive" Middle East peace, coinciding with a visit by Defence Secretary Robert Gates to Israel Monday.
Gates is now in Jordan, where he will continue to hold meetings Tuesday.
Meanwhile, James Jones, Obama's national security advisor, and administration official Dennis Ross were also expected in the coming days.
After Mitchell's hour-long meeting with al-Assad Sunday, his second since June, he told reporters that he had discussed the prospects for a comprehensive peace in the region and improved relations between Syria and the US.
"That peace means between Palestinians and Israelis, between Syria and Israel, and between Lebanon and Israel. And of course, ultimately, the full normalisation of relations between Israel and all of the countries in the region," Mitchell said.
"This is what the Arab Peace Initiative calls for, and it is the ultimate aim of the effort we are undertaking," he added.
In 2002, members of the Arab League offered to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war and "a just" solution to the question of Palestinian refugees. Syria supports the initiative.