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US, Jordan Urge Speedy Upgrade in Middle East Peace Talks

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh called for an early upgrade Thursday of U.S.-mediated proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians into full-scale direct negotiations.  The Jordanian minister said there would be tangible Arab support for such a process.

The U.S.-Jordanian meeting came only two days after a White House visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he told President Obama his government is prepared to take concrete steps to upgrade the indirect talks.

Standing alongside her Jordanian counterpart, Secretary Clinton said they both believe moving to direct talks as soon as possible is in the best interest of everyone in the region.

"We believe that all the issues that need to be resolved between the parties must be discussed in direct negotiations," said Clinton.  "The sooner that the Israelis and Palestinian get into direct negotiations, the sooner they can actually make decisions.  That's the way it's worked in the past, that is the only way it can work today."

Foreign Minister Judeh, for his part, said the atmospherics of the indirect talks being mediated by U.S. Middle east envoy George Mitchell seem to be encouraging, and provide a lot of room for hope.

The Jordanian official said the 2002 Arab League peace initiative offers the prospect of full, normalized relations between Israel and 57 Arab and Islamic countries, if there is a final peace accord providing for Israel withdrawal from occupied areas.  He said in the interim, Arab states are prepared to tangibly support full peace negotiations.

"I think once direct negotiations resume, you will see an engagement by the overall Arab context and tangible support that you refer to," said Judeh.  "But let's not put the cart before the horse. Let's try to get a process going, not an open-ended process, not another timeless kind of engagement.  We need to see benchmarks and we need to see traction on the ground."

The Jordanian Foreign Minister was not specific about what tangible support for peace talks might entail.  U.S. envoy Mitchell has long been urging moderate Arab states to make confidence-building gestures toward Israel, such as granting airline over-flight rights and reopening trade missions closed after the Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas at the end of 2008.

Key U.S. Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, have rejected such steps, which Mitchell says would encourage a political consensus for peace in Israel.

Foreign Minister Judeh, whose country signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, said a conducive environment for full peace talks requires an end to what he termed provocative and unilateral actions by Israel in occupied areas, including housing demolitions and evictions of Palestinians.

Judeh said direct talks should resume at the point they broke off in 2008, when the Palestinian Authority and government of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were said to be in broad agreement on the outlines of a Palestinian state.

Clinton said such a state should be independent, viable and contiguous with borders based on pre-1967 truce lines, but with agreed land swaps and reflecting subsequent developments.

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