Mideast Peace Envoy to Meet with Israeli PM Next Week

By Lee Speigel

Jun 17, 2009 12:02am

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell will travel to Paris next week to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, according to State Department officials. Mitchell hinted today that peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians could resume within "weeks."

The details of Mitchell's trip are still being finalized, the officials said, including whether he will make any other stops.

Mitchell will be the first U.S. official from Washington to meet with Netanyahu's since the prime minister's major policy speech Sunday, in which he for the first time endorsed the goal of a Palestinian state, albeit with major caveats. Netanyahu did not, however, agree to U.S. demands that Israel halt the growth of settlements in the West Bank. That matter has led to rare tension in the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Mitchell met with Netanyahu last week in Israel during his fourth trip to the region. He also stopped in Syrian for the first time in his new role as envoy.

Today, Mitchell told reporters he would continue talks with all sides to achieve a comprehensive peace, including Syria, and said peace talks could restart "very soon," and that preparatory talks could conclude "a matter of weeks, not many months."

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said recently that the U.S. would likely make a major policy pronouncement on the Middle East peace process before the end of July. Mitchell did not dispute this when asked about it today.

He reiterated the U.S. demand that Israel halt settlements, including so-called "natural growth" of existing growth, though he refused to be pinned down on what that means, admitting that different parties have different definitions. He rejected Israeli reports that the U.S. had struck a deal with Israel about settlements, calling the reports "highly inaccurate."

Asked how negotiations will be able to progress if Hamas, branded a terror organization by the U.S. and not part of the talks because it refuses to recognize Israel, is not at the table Mitchell replied only: "We will move forward."

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