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US bid to save Mid East peace talks

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the Obama administration engaged in furious, last-minute diplomacy to prevent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from collapsing.

The Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the talks if Israel does not extend a slowdown in West Bank settlement activity that expires on Sunday.

A senior State Department official said that as the administration presses Israel to extend the slowdown, Mrs Clinton will urge Mr Abbas not to make good on his threat and leave the negotiations.

"It is a pretty intense set of negotiations going on right now with the Israelis and the Palestinians," said Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. "We know that time is short. This is an important issue."

Mr Feltman told reporters the US is urging Israel to extend the moratorium and that both parties need to see the negotiations through to their conclusion.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he does not intend to extend the slowdown, but some Israeli officials have hinted that a compromise could be reached.

Mrs Clinton met earlier in the week with Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak, and US special Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell has been shuttling between the two sides in a bid to craft some sort of a compromise.

Earlier yesterday, Palestinian officials said they were waiting for the latest American effort to break the stand-off with Israel over the settlements.

With Sunday's deadline looming for Israel to resume contested construction, President Barack Obama has increasingly placed efforts to resolve the conflict at the centre of his foreign policy.

On Thursday, President Obama made an impassioned appeal at the United Nations to support a solution and called on Israel to extend the slowdown.


From Belfast Telegraph