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Obama Pressed To Get Mideast Peace Talks Moving

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Obama Pressed To Get Mideast Peace Talks Moving

Middle East

Obama Pressed To Get Mideast Peace Talks Moving

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President Obama's speechwriters are hard at work on the message he plans to deliver this week to the Arab and Muslim world. The administration has been struggling to come up with a well-defined response to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. And the president is under pressure from some quarters to do more to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

All that will be on his agenda as he plays host this week to the king of Jordan and the prime minister of Israel. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Administration officials say President Obama wants to talk this week about U.S. policy in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the uprisings in the Arab world.

A former Jordanian foreign minister Marwan Muasher says the president can't ignore one of the core issues, Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

Mr. MARWAN MUASHER (Former Foreign Minister, Jordan): The U.S. will not be able to carry the argument to the Arab world that if they are Egyptians or Libyans working for or yearning for freedom, the U.S. is with them, but if they're Palestinians yearning for freedom, it's complicated.

KELEMEN: Certainly, there are complications for the administration. Its efforts to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian deal collapsed almost immediately after they started. And special envoy George Mitchell resigned just last week after failing to get the two sides talking again.

The Palestinians are working on plan B, taking their case to the United Nations, where they plan to seek recognition of an independent Palestine when the general assembly meets in September.

Muasher, who's with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the U.S. can't wait around to see how things play out.

Mr. MUASHER: A push for peace must be made now rather than waiting a few years until the dust settles. I don't think events on the ground will allow anyone to wait at any rate.

KELEMEN: He says that's the message Jordan's King Abdullah will likely bring to the White House on Tuesday.

U.S. officials, though, are not raising any expectations that the president will lay out a serious initiative on Arab-Israeli peace just yet. They seem to be waiting to hear what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to say when he's here in Washington for a meeting at the White House and speeches to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and to Congress.

A former ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, of the Brookings Institution, says his advice to President Obama is to put his arm around Netanyahu and explain this...

Mr. MARTIN INDYK (Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution): You can't stop something with nothing. If you don't like what's coming down the track in terms of United Nations actions, is going to isolate Israel, de-legitimize it, and declare it as an occupying power of a member state of the United Nations, you have got to come up with an initiative that the United States can then get behind. And it has to be a credible initiative.

KELEMEN: If the Israelis want a Palestinian state, Indyk adds, they ought to spell out where it's going to be so the two sides can finally negotiate the deal.

But Muasher, the former Jordanian official, doubts anything Netanyahu will offer will move things forward and says President Obama should be the one laying out a plan.

That's also the view of Jeremy Ben-Ami, who runs J Street, an advocacy group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace.

Mr. JEREMY BEN-AMI (Executive Director, J Street): He doesn't need to dot every I and cross every T but he's got to lay out the key questions before the parties and ask them for yes or no answers to gauge their seriousness and in order to really assess who's ready to move forward and who isn't.

KELEMEN: Like Muasher, Ben-Ami argues the Obama administration has a limited time frame.

Mr. BEN-AMI: If the United States wants to avoid a showdown at the U.N. in September, which most people agree will not be productive, then the president really does needs to act now.

KELEMEN: The president is to speak at the State Department on Thursday - a day before he hosts Netanyahu at the White House.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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