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Archive for Thursday, May 7, 2009

New approach to Mideast peace emerging through U.S., Arab nations

May 7, 2009

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— Israel, Syria, Lebanon and other Arab nations would sit down together to try to resolve the Middle East conflict under a new “combined approach” currently under discussion with the U.S., Jordan’s king said Wednesday.

The idea is the latest indication that the Obama administration is trying to build on the shared interest of its Arab allies and Israel in blunting the threat from Iran. As part of the new strategy, Arab diplomats said this week that the U.S. has asked the 22-member Arab League to amend a 2002 peace initiative to make it more palatable to Israel.

“What we are discussing today is a combined approach of bringing together Arabs, Europeans and the United States as a team to create the circumstances over the next several months that allow Israelis and Palestinians to sit at the table, but also with Lebanese, Syrians and Arab nations,” Jordan’s King Abdullah told a news conference in Berlin.

“So it is a packaged effort that we are going to work on ... and I would imagine that the plan will be more articulated by the president of the United States after (Israeli) Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington,” Abdullah added.

Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to meet President Barack Obama on May 18 to push for a tough U.S. stance on Iran. Israel argues that progress in peace with the Palestinians can’t happen unless Iran is reined in.

International Mideast envoy Tony Blair also said Wednesday that the Obama administration and international negotiators are drafting a new strategy for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and expect to unveil it within six weeks. He did not provide any further details, however.

The Obama administration’s efforts to start a dialogue with Iran have sent ripples of concern through the capitals of America’s closest Arab allies, who accuse Tehran of playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East. In a rare confluence of interests with its Arab neighbors, Israel has also singled out Iran as the greatest threat to stability in the region.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was in Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week, has sought to reassure the Arab allies that any contacts with Iran would be “open and transparent” and regional allies would be kept informed “so nobody gets surprised.”

Arab diplomats say the Americans are pressing Arabs to amend their 2002 peace initiative to make it more acceptable to Israel. The plan — first proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 — called for exchange of Arab land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war for normalized relations with Arab countries. Later Arabs added an insistence on the right of Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in Mideast wars to return to what is now Israel.

Several diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the Americans are asking the Arab nations to drop the right of return and agree to either resettle the refugees in the host countries or in the Palestinian territories.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said he rejected that suggestion.

“There is no amendment to this initiative. We have received nothing from the other side. ... no initiative no response and no proper talking about peace, so why should we change or amend and for what reason,” he told The Associated Press in an interview.

Moussa also said the U.S. should not try to link Iran with other Middle East conflicts.

“The question of Iran should be separate from the Arab-Israel conflict,” Moussa said.

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