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US Mideast envoy pushes for comprehensive peace

world Updated: Jul 26, 2009 19:20 IST
US Mideast envoy pushes for comprehensive peace

US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell pushed a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal Sunday, as he met separately with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and then with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv.

After his hour-long meeting with al-Assad, his second since June, Mitchell told reporters that he had discussed the prospects for a comprehensive peace in the region and improved relations between Syria and the US.

Mitchell said he had told al-Assad that Obama is determined to facilitate a truly comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, adding that this would mean full normalisation of relations between Israel and all of countries in the region.

This is what the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative calls for, and it is the ultimate aim of US policy, Mitchell told reporters.

In 2002, members of the Arab League offered to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war and "a just" solution to the question of Palestinian refugees. Syria supports the initiative.

A comprehensive peace is the only way to guarantee stability, security, and prosperity for all of the states in the region, Mitchell told reporters in Damascus.

Mitchell said the US remained committed to the idea that a dialogue with Syria based on mutual interests and mutual respect was the most solid foundation for a discussion of the two countries' shared goals and any real differences in their positions.

Syria is a country with talented people and a long and impressive history, he said, but it needs real peace to achieve its full potential.

His remarks closely mirrored those he made June 13 when he was last in Damascus.

"We seek peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, between Syria and Israel, between Lebanon and Israel and full normalisation between Israel and its Arab neighbours," he told reporters then.

Mitchell, who met with Barak in Tel Aviv in the mid-afternoon, is only one of several top US officials visiting the region this week. Defence Secretary Robert Gates was expected in Israel and Jordan later Sunday. National Security Advisor James Jones and administration official Dennis Ross is also expected in the coming days.

Their visits come amid sharp differences between Israel and the Obama administration over the question of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories, with Washington demanding a total halt to Israeli building.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to minimize the rift, telling his ministers before the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that it was only "natural" that Israel and the US would not be in full agreement on all points.

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