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UN Presses for Direct Israeli-Palestinian Talks

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke with several key officials in the Middle East this week to press for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Mr. Ban spoke separately by telephone with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Secretary-General of the Arab League and the foreign minister of Egypt to underscore his support for proceeding toward meaningful direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Ban's conversations, which occurred just before the Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo, endorsed the idea of direct peace talks, when the Palestinians are ready.

Mr. Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, says the secretary-general will meet on Friday in New York with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "He expects to discuss a range of issues with him, including the situation in Gaza and the need to continue Israel's freeze on settlement activity," he said.

The Israeli Defense Minister arrived in Washington on Monday and has held talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior U.S. officials.

Following the Arab League statement on direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is ready to proceed during the next few days. A key issue that has obstructed the direct talks has been Israel's partial freeze on settlement construction that expires in September. There have been indications from Israel that the freeze will not be extended.