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Israeli PM: Re-Launch Peace Talks Immediately


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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated his call for an immediate resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu addressed a gathering of North American Jewish leaders in Washington hours before he was to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed impatience to restart direct peace negotiations with Palestinians that have been suspended for nearly a year.

"I believe there is no time to waste," said Benjamin Netanyahu. "We need to move towards peace with a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose. But to get to a peace agreement, we have to start negotiating the peace agreement. And it is high time that we stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let us get on with it. Let us move!"

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded a freeze on Israeli settlements on the West Bank as a precondition to resuming talks with Israel. The Obama administration has also urged Israel to stop settlement construction.

Mr. Netanyahu has rejected an absolute halt on settlements, but expressed support for certain restrictions.

"No Israeli government has been so willing to restrain settlement activities as part of an effort to re-launch peace talks [as the current government]," he said. "So I say today to Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority: let us seize the moment to reach an historic agreement."

The prime minister was addressing an enthusiastically pro-Israeli audience at the annual convention of the Jewish Federations of North America. Nevertheless, a heckler briefly interrupted the early portion of his remarks, and was loudly booed by the crowd.

Mr. Netanyahu defended Israel's right to self-defense. He characterized Iran's nuclear program as a threat to Israel's security as well as that of the international community.

"The Iranian regime terrorizes its people, sponsors and supplies terrorists, and openly pledges to wipe Israel off the map," said Netanyahu. "Now just imagine how much more dangerous this regime would be if it had atomic bombs. The responsible members of the international community must unite to prevent this grave threat to the peace of the entire world."

Tehran insists its nuclear program is solely for peaceful energy purposes.

The Israeli prime minister's remarks preceded a private meeting with President Obama at the White House, where the two leaders are widely expected to discuss the Middle East peace process as well as Iran's nuclear program.

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