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Spain FM Calls for Direct Israel-Palestinian Negotiations

Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has called for unconditional, direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Spanish official also reassured Israel over EU sanctions imposed against Iran for its nuclear program.

Speaking after meeting with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem, Mr. Moratinos said both Israel and the Palestinians should enter direct, face-to-face talks without preconditions.

"Meeting together, the two leaders, the Palestinian Authority and Prime Minister Netanyahu, meeting together urgently, directly, without pre-conditions, I think is the best way to move forward," he said.

The United States and the European Union have been pushing for a return to direct talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is willing to start direct negotiations. Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas has said he wants a complete freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank as a condition for direct talks.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said a temporary freeze on settlements - which is set to expire September 25 - is a separate issue from face-to-face talks. "It is two separate issues; we clarified our position from the beginning, that this moratorium is only for 10 months and direct talks is a very important issue for both sides, not only for Israel. And we think that we must start immediately with direct talks. And I want to clarify again that there is no place for any moratorium after 25 September," he said.

The Spanish Foreign Minister later traveled to the West Bank city of Ramallah for meetings with the Palestinian leadership. His statements came one day before Arab foreign ministers are set to meet in Cairo to decide whether to endorse face-to-face negotiations. In recent weeks, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell has been mediating indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Moratinos also reassured Israel about EU sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program. The Spanish Foreign Minister said that recent sanctions on Iran's energy, foreign trade and banking sectors sent a clear message to the Tehran government.

"It is a double track approach, of course, to have a very clear position on sanctions, not only on [the United Nations] Security Council, but specific new measures from the European Union on the financial side - on the oil and gas sector, in all elements that can give to Iran a very clear message that they have to move and respond to the requirements of the international community," he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the EU sanctions, but said they would have no effect on Iran. Mr. Ahmadinejad later added that his country is willing to resume nuclear talks with the West next month if world powers are allowed to express their view on Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal.

The Iranian president also said Turkey and Brazil must be included in the discussions. Earlier this year, those two countries tried to negotiate a nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful uses only. The United States and its allies say Tehran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons.