Mideast Peace: Much Activity, No Visible Progress

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell head in separate directions Thursday as they try to push forward Arab-Israeli peace. Clinton is visiting the West Bank and Jordan, while Mitchell heads to Syria and Lebanon. There's been a lot of Middle East diplomacy and reports of serious negotiations but so far no visible progress.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Today is one of those moments when we get an insight - however slight - into the Middle East peace talks. We do not know if they're making progress.

WERTHEIMER: We do get a sense of U.S. efforts to move forward. Today, U.S. envoy George Mitchell is visiting Syria and Lebanon. Those two countries have their own longstanding issues with Israel.

INSKEEP: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Jordan and also some of the territory at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute: the West Bank.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Secretary Clinton.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made a rare trip to Jerusalem yesterday, visiting the Israeli prime minister's residence for the first time since Benjamin Netanyahu took office. Abbas wrote in the guestbook that he came after a long absence to continue negotiations, but he's threatened to pull out if Israel does not extend a partial moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell says the two sides are making progress on that issue, and he's hopeful the dispute won't derail the negotiations.

Mr. GEORGE MITCHELL (U.S. Middle East Envoy): We believe that these negotiations, having begun and having moved very quickly to serious and substantive discussions, should continue.

KELEMEN: Mitchell says compared to his experience in the Northern Ireland peace process, these talks are moving faster and getting into the core issues more quickly.

Mr. MITCHELL: To me, it has been extremely impressive to see both leaders engaging in this fashion. They are serious. They mean business. They do have differences. We believe they can be overcome, and we are going to remain and support them with patience, perseverance, and determination.

KELEMEN: The settlement issue is far from the only trouble in these negotiations. While the delegations met in Jerusalem, Israeli officials said that Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a rocket and eight mortars into Israel, the highest number in months, and Hamas, which rules Gaza, has been threatening to undermine the peace talks.

When he read out his statement last night, Mitchell said both Abbas and Netanyahu condemn violence and reiterated their belief that two states for two peoples can only be achieved through negotiations. He said his job is also to seek a broader Arab-Israeli peace, and his visit to Syria is aimed at trying to revive the Israeli-Syrian track.

Mr. MITCHELL: We do not believe that proceeding on both tracks is mutually exclusive. To the contrary, we believe that they can be complementary and mutually beneficial if we can proceed toward comprehensive peace on more than one track.

KELEMEN: Mitchell says he'll visit both Syria and Lebanon and reach out to other Arab states in the coming days and weeks as he tries to gain their support for a comprehensive peace.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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