News / Middle East

    Obama: Israeli-Palestinian Solution 'More Urgent than Ever'

    President Barack Obama (r) meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the White House, April 5, 2011
    President Barack Obama (r) meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the White House, April 5, 2011

    President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres have held wide-ranging talks at the White House on Israel-Palestinian peace efforts and what unrest in Arab countries could mean for peace and security in the region.  

    The president was asked about his talks with Mr. Peres during an impromptu news conference that focused primarily on the impasse with opposition Republicans over spending and a potential U.S. government shutdown.

    Calling Mr. Peres "an extraordinary statesman" Mr. Obama said they had an extensive discussion about developments in the Middle East and their connection with Israel-Palestinian peace efforts.

    "I think he and I both share a belief that this is both a challenge and an opportunity, that with the winds of change blowing through the Arab world it is more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and he had some very interesting ideas around those issues," he said.

    President Obama would not elaborate on the ideas he says the Israeli leader offered.

    In remarks to media, President Peres said he and Mr. Obama are convinced that the "awakening in the Middle East is a call of history" that should not be ignored requiring "necessary steps" to make it a success.

    Events in the region, said Mr. Peres, also underscore the urgency of moving past the current stalemate to direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

    "Both of us feel that the new situation calls for the renewal, for the immediate renewal, of the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  The negotiations must be direct.  In spite of the fact that there are controversies, if there [were not] controversies we would not need negotiations.  And I think the sooner is better because the open window is limited by time and we have to act very decisively and very promptly," he said.

    Saying he spoke with President Obama about his speech in Cairo in 2009 proposing a new relationship with the Muslim world, Mr. Peres had this observation about unrest in the region which he said was not as much a clash of civilizations as a clash of generations.

    "The younger generations that opened their eyes and saw the ugliness of corruption, of dictatorship, of lack of hope.  Our heart is with them.  We would like them to succeed.  We think it is a great opportunity for all of us," said Peres.

    Regarding Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February by a popular uprising, President Obama said he and Mr. Peres explored ideas to nurture economic opportunity so young Egyptians see a brighter future.

    President Obama and Mr. Peres also discussed U.S. - Israeli security ties, with President Obama saying Israel's security will always be a top priority.  

    Israeli media reports quote President Peres as saying in remarks to reporters in Hebrew, that he raised threats to Israel's security from Iran, and the need for what he called a "defensive wall" against Iran.

    Reports also quote Peres as saying he renewed a request that President Obama pardon Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel in 1987 who is serving a life sentence in prison.

    There were no indications out of Tuesday's talks about possible next steps Israel might take on peace efforts with Palestinians, or what President Obama may be considering to get the process moving again.

    Disputes over Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem have slowed Mr. Obama's initiative begun last September for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement within a year.

    The State Department on Tuesday voiced deep concern about plans announced on the eve of Mr. Peres's visit to Washington for more than 900 new homes in a neighborhood of predominantly Arab east Jerusalem.

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