Obama Urges Mideast Peace Talks To 'Press On'
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN: President Obama told world leaders that they have a choice. They can come back next year and make the same old speeches, or they can put their weight behind the peace talks his administration finally got off the ground.
BARACK OBAMA: This time, we should draw upon the teachings of tolerance that lie at the heart of three great religions that see Jerusalem's soil as sacred. This time, we should reach for what's best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations - an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.
KELEMEN: But to get there, he says, Arab states need to do more to help the Palestinian Authority president and stop trying to, quote, "tear Israel down."
OBAMA: Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel's legitimacy will only be met by the unshakable opposition of the United States.
KELEMEN: President Obama also had a message to Israelis who were not in the room because of the Jewish holiday Sukkot.
OBAMA: Israel's settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks. Our position on this issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium should be extended. We also believe that talks should press on until completed.
KELEMEN: An Israeli source says there are lots of compromises being floated from all sides, though none appear to be too serious yet. With settlers planning to resume building on Sunday and Palestinians threatening to walk out of talks if that happens, the negotiators are in a rush. A U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said there's literally no stone unturned, and negotiations are likely to go right down to the deadline. A former Palestinian negotiator said if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas compromises on the issue, he will look weak in the eyes of Palestinians. Speaking outside the U.N. yesterday, Diana Buttu also said she's disappointed that President Obama is backpedaling on the settlement issue.
DIANA BUTTU: I expected much, much more from President Obama. I really expected that he was going to act and be very decisive on the issue - at the very least, of the settlements. Because in my mind, how can anybody prove to us that the peace process is going to work and that settlements will eventually be evacuated if they can't even stop them from being constructed in the first place now?
KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.
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