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Obama Confident of Progress on Mideast Peace


U.S. President Barack Obama says he is confident that the Mideast peace process can be moved forward. The president is challenging both Israel and the Palestinians to work harder toward peace, after he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office.

Mr. Obama says Israel must stop expanding its West Bank settlements, to help advance peace efforts. He spoke Thursday, after Israel refused a demand to freeze all construction in the West Bank.

Sitting next to Mr. Abbas, the president told reporters he pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the matter last week. "I think it is important not to assume the worst, but to assume the best," he said.

Mr. Obama also said Palestinians must do their part, by improving security in the West Bank, although he said they have made progress in that area. "The Israelis have good reason to be concerned about security. That is why it is important that we continue to make progress on the security issues that so often end up disrupting peace talks between the two parties," he said.

Mr. Abbas, speaking through an interpreter, said the Palestinian Authority is committed to the so-called Road Map for peace. "I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm to you that we are fully committed to all of our obligations under the Road Map, from the A to the Z," he said.

The Palestinian president also said Arab nations are willing to normalize relations with Israel if the Jewish state withdraws from all occupied land.

Both leaders stressed the importance of a two-state solution. Mr. Obama said the creation of a Palestinian state will help ensure that Israel remains safe and secure. Mr. Netanyahu has not endorsed statehood for the Palestinians.

The president said he does not have a concrete timetable for a Mideast peace agreement, but he said there is no time to waste. "I do share President Abbas' feelings, and I believe that many Israelis share the same view, that time is of the essence," he said.

Mr. Obama said he has been aggressive in meeting with both sides and appealing to the international community for help. He said all the parties need to get this thing back on track.

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