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Obama To Meet With Mideast Leaders


U.S. President Barack Obama is stepping up his personal involvement in the Middle East peace process. He has invited regional leaders to the White House for individual talks in the coming weeks.

The invitations are going out to the leaders of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

Details are still being worked out, but the administration says President Obama hopes to meet separately with Benjamin Netanyahu, Hosni Mubarak and Mahmoud Abbas within the next six weeks.

Mr. Obama previewed this new round of personal diplomacy on Tuesday, when he welcomed Jordan's King Abdullah to the White House.

He said some people are cynical about the peace process, both in the region and around the world. But he said progress is still possible.

"What we want to do is to step back from the abyss to say as hard as it is, as difficult as it may be, the prospect of peace still exists," said President Obama.

The president tried to mix optimism with realism as he took questions from reporters at the end of the meeting with the Jordanian monarch.

He talked about the tough road ahead, but he indicated he expects some positive signs in the not too distant future.

"My hope would be that over the next several months that you start seeing gestures of good faith on all sides," said Mr. Obama.

Mr. Obama did not elaborate, but he said the parties know what kind of confidence measures might be helpful.

The president stressed that the United States will do everything it can to encourage those measures, noting that his special envoy, George Mitchell, will continue discussions in the region.

Mr. Obama cautioned, though, that with a new government in Israel, progress will not come overnight.

"I think it is very important to recognize that the Israelis now have had a government for a few weeks," he said. "And it was a very complicated process for them to put a coalition together. So I think more listening needs to be done."

The president said with all the political changes taking place in the region, both sides will need time to formulate and solidify their positions. But he said there will come a point when the talking must stop, and action must be taken.

Mr. Obama said again that he backs a two-state solution, despite the reluctance of the new Israeli government to support Palestinian statehood. He said tough decisions lie ahead for all parties, and vowed the U.S. will do all it can to create the conditions where progress is possible.

Jordan's King said he hopes everyone involved in the peace process will seize the opportunity.

"I think we are looking now at the positives and not the negatives in seeing how we can sequence events over the next couple of months that allows Israelis and Palestinians, and Israelis and Arabs to sit around the table and move this process forward," said King Abdullah.

During the session with reporters, President Obama was also asked about anti-Israel statements made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a U.N. conference on racism this week.

Mr. Obama said such comments hurt Iran's position in the world. But he indicated he was not surprised by the Iranian leader's remarks, saying the rhetoric was nothing new.

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