Obama: Mideast Peace ‘More Vital Than Ever’

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Tuesday that it’s “more vital than ever” for Israel and the Palestinians to restart peace talks, as he plunged again into Mideast diplomacy with hopes of reaching an elusive accord.

Addressing reporters after an Oval Office meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Obama said the U.S. would continue to push for “an equitable and just solution to a problem that has been nagging the region for many, many years.”

The latest White House push comes with Israeli and Palestinian peace talks stalemated and amid upheavals sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. Obama’s special Middle East envoy, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, resigned several days ago after a largely fruitless two-year bid for peace. Obama is to deliver a speech on the Middle East and U.S. policy there Thursday, and the next day he’ll welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House.

Obama said he discussed the changes roiling the Middle East with Abdullah, whose country has a peace treaty with Israel and is a key U.S. partner in looking for peace.

“We both share the view that despite the many changes – or perhaps because of the many changes – that are taking place in the region, it’s more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create two states that are living side by side in peace and security,” Obama said.

Abdullah praised Obama for his continued focus on “the core issue of an Israeli and Palestinian peace.”

Yet Obama gave no indication of how the U.S. would bring about peace talks that have dried up since last September, when they were briefly restarted under U.S. pressure.

There are many, and daunting, barriers to resuming peace talks.

Netanyahu made clear in comments to his parliament Monday that he doesn’t believe a Palestinian state is possible if the militant group Hamas, which is set to join a Palestinian unity government, does not recognize Israel. For their part the Palestinians plan to seek U.N. recognition of a state this fall in hopes it will give them more leverage in negotiations with Israel.

Inflaming tensions, 15 people were killed over the weekend in mass marches from Gaza, Syria and Lebanon toward Israel’s borders.

On Jordan, Obama announced plans Tuesday for economic assistance to the country to help lay the conditions for economic growth and stability.

The changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa have not skipped Jordan, where weeks of protests led Abdullah to dismiss his Cabinet and prime minister in February. Obama said the U.S. welcomes the initiatives taken by Abdullah “and feel confident that to the extent that he’s able to move those reforms forward, this will be good for the security and stability of Jordan, but also will be good for the economic prosperity of the people of Jordan.”

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