WASHINGTON — The United States stepped up efforts Tuesday to press Arab ministers who will meet later this week to back continued Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which risk derailing over Jewish settlements.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas plans to decide at Friday's Arab League meeting in Libya whether he will carry out a repeated threat to walk out of the peace talks over settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
"What we want out of the Arab League is continued support for direct negotiations that we have just launched," US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.
Arab foreign ministers are due to weigh in on the issue of settlements when they meet in the Libyan city of Sirte to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian talks that were launched a month ago in Washington.
Crowley said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed how to obtain a "successful outcome" at the Arab League meeting when she spoke by phone Monday with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a sponsor of the peace talks.
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who toured the Middle East last week in a bid to save the fledgling talks, has also made calls of his own from Washington, Crowley said.
"We are intensively engaged. We are in touch with the Palestinians. We are in touch with the Israelis. We are in touch with countries that will be participating in the Arab League meeting on Friday," Crowley said.
"Our message is clear... We are at a critical stage in this process. We want to see the negotiations continue. We don't want to see the parties step away from this process," he said.
"And we continue to offer ideas to both sides as to how to navigate through the settlement issue that currently confronts us," he added.
The White House has denied reports that US President Barack Obama sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offering Israel incentives to extend by two months a moratorium on settlements that expired September 26.
"We believe, if we can get past this immediate challenge (of settlements), then we can get more substantively into and address the core issues and ultimately reach a successful negotiations within 12 months," Crowley said.
"So we're doing everything that we can to convince the parties to remain committed to these negotiations," he said.
Clinton was also due to meet in Washington with Tony Blair, the representative of the Quartet on Middle East peace. The Quartet is made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations.
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