Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo have endorsed the idea of direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel, but say the talks should proceed only when the Palestinians are ready.
Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jaseem al Thani chaired the meeting and said Thursday that any direct negotiations also require an agreement on what topics will be discussed.
The foreign ministers met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before announcing their decision. Mr. Abbas has refused to enter direct negotiations unless Israel puts an end to settlement construction in occupied territory.
Following the Arab League statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is ready to proceed with direct talks in the next few days.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington is encouraged by the developments out of Cairo.
P.J. Crowley also said the Obama administration has received a letter from Arab foreign ministers about their position on direct talks as well as their concerns. He said the ideas in the letter will be evaluated.
The United States is trying to revive stalled peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell has been shuttling between the two sides since May, trying to get them to agree to speak with each other directly.
Despite the Arab League's support for direct talks, there are still several obstacles, including indications from Israel that its partial freeze on settlement construction, slated to end in September, will not be extended.
Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls the Gaza Strip, has rejected any negotiations with Israel and said any endorsement by the Arab League of direct talks would be a "political sin."