Clinton Says Mideast Talks To Restart Next Week

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that Israel and the Palestinians are ready to begin indirect talks with a U.S. mediator.

Clinton said she expects the two sides to begin so-called proximity talks with George Mitchell, the special U.S. envoy to the Mideast, next week.

His visit will follow a weekend meeting of Arab League diplomats. Mitchell is expected to leave on Sunday and spend the week holding discussions with Israelis and Palestinians, U.S. officials said.

The hope is that Mitchell can get the two sides talking directly to each other soon, though Israel has not agreed to a formal freeze of controversial housing projects that have kept the Palestinians away from the negotiating table.

"Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations, working out all the issues that they must," Clinton said after a meeting with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Mohammad Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah.

Sabah said Arab states support the U.S. efforts to revive negotiations.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said his side was making "every possible effort to begin these talks." A final decision, he said, would come from Arab foreign ministers and the Palestinian Liberation Organization's leadership.

Israeli government officials had no immediate reaction to Clinton's announcement.

An attempt last month to resume indirect talks fizzled when Israel announced a new Jewish housing project in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as a future capital. That drew fierce criticism from the United States and led to the worst rift in decades between Washington and its chief Mideast ally.

Since then, the Obama administration has sought to repair the damage with a series of recent meetings and speeches from senior officials, including Clinton and Obama's national security adviser, James Jones.

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