Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials will meet separately with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington Friday, as part of efforts to restart the stalled peace talks.
Clinton will meet with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and later with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. She will then hold separate talks with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The meetings will be held ahead of a major speech Clinton will deliver outlining the Obama administration's commitment to the Middle East peace process.
The peace talks suffered another setback this week after the U.S. abandoned efforts to persuade Israel to extend a freeze on construction of new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Speaking to reporters in Cairo Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he will not negotiate without a settlement freeze.
Meanwhile, more than 24 former European leaders are urging the European Union to take a stronger stance against Israel on the settlement issue.
The Reuters news agency says that in a letter the leaders have called for a "rapid and dramatic move" to stop Israeli settlement expansion. The letter is signed by officials that include former heads of state.
Palestinian officials say Mr. Abbas has requested an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers to discuss the repercussions of Washington's move. That meeting is expected in the Egyptian capital within days.
The U.S. will send Middle East envoy George Mitchell back to the region next week in an effort to advance stalled talks between Israel and the Palestinians. In announcing the Mitchell mission, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the freeze issue had come to overshadow the broader agenda and that it is time to shift tactics.
Crowley said Washington does not believe at this time that an Israeli moratorium can provide the basis for resuming direct negotiations.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.
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