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Middle East conflict: US tries new approach for peace

The US relaunches peace efforts in the Middle East conflict, this time apparently focusing right away on ‘final status’ issues.

By Staff writer / January 8, 2010

In this file photo, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell, speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington on November 25, 2009. Mr. Mitchell and Hillary Clinton met with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan on Friday.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File

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Washington

It’s been almost a year since President Obama set Middle East peace as a top foreign-policy priority, and now the administration is marking that anniversary by relaunching its efforts.

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In what could turn out to be a bold – or foolhardy – move, the administration appears to have decided to try to jump-start the stalled talks by leapfrogging over the broad range of issues normally taken up to instead focus at the outset on setting borders and tackling the issue of Jerusalem.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and George Mitchell, Mr. Obama’s special Middle East envoy, kicked off the latest peace offensive Friday. They met at the State Department with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan – the only two Arab countries having formal diplomatic relations with Israel and two nations considered crucial to moving the peace process forward.

Then next week, Mr. Mitchell will travel to Europe, where he will meet with other powers pressing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. He’ll also lay the groundwork for a fresh round of travel to the Middle East at the end of the month.

The new push is expected to include the drafting of letters that set out areas to be addressed by a final accord. It is also expected to guarantee US support for both sides in the implementation of a peace plan.

The administration’s new strategy follows a disappointing 2009 in which Obama’s hopes of restarting peace talks were dashed. Now, the administration appears to be moving away from a slow-and-steady approach.

“We need to lift our sights, and instead of ... looking down at the trees, we need to look at the forest,” Secretary Clinton said after her meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. “We know what a final resolution will have to include: borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, water,” she added.

The idea to focus right out of the blocks on borders reflects the thinking that establishing borders could be a way of addressing the thorny issue of Israeli settlements.

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