US special Mideast envoy to return to region in bid to break settlement deadlock

By Matthew Lee, AP
Monday, September 27, 2010

US Mideast envoy to return to region

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s special Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell is returning to the region this week to continue urgent efforts to break a deadlock in negotiations over Israeli settlements.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that Mitchell would depart Washington on Monday evening and hold meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials later in the week. He said the specific schedule is still being worked out.

Mitchell’s trip comes after Israel defied U.S. and international demands to extend a 10-month slowdown on settlement construction in the West Bank, raising the prospect of the Palestinians abandoning the negotiations in protest. The slowdown expired on Sunday and the Palestinians had been threatening to walk out of talks if it was not extended.

“We are disappointed but we remain focused on our long-term objective and will be talking to the parties about the implications of the Israeli decision,” Crowley said, adding that Mitchell would “sort through with the parties where we go from here.”

He said the U.S. position in support of extending the slowdown on settlements remained unchanged and praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for not immediately walking out of the talks.

“In our discussions with both sides over the weekend, we encouraged restraint whatever decision was made on the Israeli side and the Palestinian response so far reflects that restraint,” Crowley said. “We had called upon both sides to be constructive in the actions that they take from this point forward and certainly the restraint at this point is appreciated.”

Crowley said the U.S. is still focused on promoting negotiations on a “two-state solution” in which an independent Palestinian state exists beside a secure Israel. Crowley encouraged “constructive actions” toward reaching that goal.

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