Middle East

Obama Tries To Get Mideast Peace Talks Going Again

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President Obama held separate meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday. Obama said there is no shortcut to Palestinian statehood. The administration is trying to revive peace negotiations.

STEVE INSKEEP, host: The situation for the United States has not grown any less awkward at the United Nations. Palestinians are going ahead with their effort to seek membership in the U.N., effectively seeking recognition as a state. They are ignoring President Obama's insistence that they avoid a showdown with Israel. The president spoke in support of Israel yesterday, while also calling for compromise. Europeans are also weighing in here, breaking the American monopoly on what has been a failed peace process. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: For a president who came to office talking about the need for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Barack Obama sounded frustrated on the floor of the U.N. General Assembly yesterday. He was again nudging the two sides back to peace talks.

President BARACK OBAMA: Peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied.

KELEMEN: President Obama opposes the Palestinian bid to seek U.N. membership as a state in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. And Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked him for standing his ground on that.

Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: And my hope is that there will be other leaders in the world, responsible leaders, who will heed your call, Mr. President, and oppose this effort to shortcut peace negotiations - in fact, to avoid them.

KELEMEN: Palestinians, though, say they can't go back to negotiations while the Israelis are, quote, "deepening and widening their occupation by expanding Jewish settlements." And while Palestinians were disappointed with President Obama yesterday, presidential advisor Nabil Shaath said he understands U.S. leader has political pressures and other priorities.

NABIL SHAATH: Particularly in a year of elections in the United States and a lot of domestic requirements on the president of the United States, we seek international support, and that is what brought us to the United Nations.

KELEMEN: Shaath says the Palestinians will submit their U.N. membership application Friday, even though they may not have the nine votes they need in the Security Council for it to pass and the U.S. is threatening to veto.

SHAATH: And if we fail, we have to keep knocking at the door of that organization. This is a procedure that we have to go through, without closing the doors to other procedures such as a non-member state in the General Assembly.

KELEMEN: That's what French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested the Palestinians do. Go to the General Assembly to upgrade their status rather than force a Security Council vote. Sarkozy also proposed a new round of negotiations with a tight timeline and more international involvement, since efforts so far have failed.

President NICOLAS SARKOZY: (Through translator) Sixty years without moving one centimeter forward. Doesn't that suggest we should change the method and the scheduling here? Let's have one month to resume discussions, six months to agree to find an agreement on borders and security, one year to reach a definitive agreement.

KELEMEN: Sarkozy says he wanted to offer Israelis some friendly advice as well. Look around and see what's happening in the region.

SARKOZY: (Through translator) You can't remain immobile when this wind of freedom and democracy is blowing in your region.

KELEMEN: European diplomats are sounding confident that Israelis and Palestinians understand the changing dynamics in the region and are showing more flexibility and readiness for peace talks. The so-called Middle East quartet the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia - are hoping to spell out a framework for negotiations but are still negotiating the text.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.

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