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Clinton Urges Mideast Peace Talks Without Preconditions

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday met the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt and urged a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations as soon as possible and without preconditions. U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, preparing for a new diplomatic push on the issue, says he wants to see a peace accord concluded within two years, if not sooner.

Clinton's meetings with her Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts signaled the start of a new U.S. push on the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking front that for the first-time includes a specific time-frame.

Envoy Mitchell, the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and 1990's North Ireland peacemaker, leaves Washington Sunday for Europe and consultations on the Middle East including a Brussels meeting of the international Middle East Quartet - the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

Mitchell's interview remarks earlier this week of a two-year time-frame for a peace accord coincide with news reports that the United States hopes to secure an agreement before the end of this year on the borders of an envisaged Palestinian state - which if achieved would effectively end the long-running conflict over what constitutes Israeli settlement on Arab land.

Appearing alongside Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Clinton said peace talks, idle for more than a year, should be re-launched as soon as possible, while providing unusually specific language on what a peace accord should entail.

"The United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments, and meet Israeli security requirements," said Clinton.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh for his part said the two governments agree on the need for serious negotiations by the parties that are bound by a time-line and a clear plan, with benchmarks for ending the long conflict. He said negotiating deadlines, along resisted by Israel, would assist, not impede, the peace process.

"You cannot just have another open-ended process. Some deadlines have to be put on the table, and these deadlines help to serve the parties rather than present obstacles in the path towards peace," he cautioned. "They help put the parties in the right time frame and perspective. We've said it in the past. We've had too much process and not enough peace. What we don't need in the region right now is another open-ended process that leaves issue unresolved and leaves loose ends without being tied," he said.

Clinton said she and her Jordanian counterpart were concerned about recent activities in Jerusalem, a reference to an Israel announcement late last month that it will build 700 new housing units in the eastern part of the city, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle War and later annexed.

Judeh said east Jerusalem should be part of a future Palestinian state, but that it is among final status issues to be resolved by the parties themselves.

Clinton met later in the day with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and the country's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. The latter has worked behind the scenes to broker reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and the radical Hamas movement which controls Gaza.

Gheit in a photo-session with Clinton said the parties are trying to re-generate energy and momentum for renewed peace talks and that success in the effort is crucial.