Clinton Reserved About French Mideast Peace Talks

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 6:30 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given a cool welcome to a French plan to host a Middle East peace conference, as disagreements surface between Washington and Paris over how to get Israel and the Palestinians back to stalled negotiations.

Clinton said Monday the U.S. strongly supports the resumption of talks, but does not think it would be productive to have “a conference about returning to negotiations.”

She said any new gathering must be linked to a willingness by the parties to resume talks. Clinton added the Obama Administration is taking a “wait and see” attitude about the merits of the Paris conference because neither party has indicated much willingness to return to negotiations.

Alain Juppe, Clinton's visiting French counterpart, said Monday the conference could be critical to forestalling a crisis at the United Nations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he intends to seek recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, a move that both Israel and the U.S. say will only inflame tensions.

Juppe said his offer last week for Paris to host a conference was based on concerns that the situation could spin out of control if September arrives and no peace negotiations are underway. He noted that the Palestinians have embraced the proposal while the Israelis say they are studying it.

Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat and Nabil Abu Rudeinah met with Clinton and other U.S. diplomats at the State Department Monday. Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho had separate meetings.

Erekat stressed that reconciliation between Mr. Abbas' Fatah faction and Islamist Hamas militants who control Gaza was imperative for the viability of a Palestinian state.

The Palestinians say the planned unity government will be technocratic and have no direct role for Hamas. But both Israel and the U.S. have said peace talks are not possible unless Hamas explicitly recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounces violence.

Clinton said Tuesday concerns about Hamas remain.