Obama pushes peace with Mideast leaders

U.S. President Barack Obama launched a joint meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by presiding over a handshake between the two leaders Tuesday in New York City.
U.S. President Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, as they begin their trilateral meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. ((Charles Dharapak/Associated Press))

U.S. President Barack Obama launched a joint meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by presiding over a handshake between the two leaders Tuesday in New York City.

He sternly urged both men to do more to make Middle East peace talks possible. It was the first Israeli-Palestinian meeting since Netanyahu took office in March.

The session came after Obama met individually with both leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session on climate change.

"The United States is committed to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East that includes a settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that results in two states: Israel and Palestine, in which both the Israeli and Palestinian people can live in peace and security and realize their aspirations for a better life for their children," Obama said as the meeting got underway.

Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas spoke during a brief appearance before reporters.

More meetings are scheduled, not between the two leaders specifically, but between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and U.S. envoy George Mitchell in Washington next week aimed at kick-starting a formal peace process.

Obama has asked Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to report back to him on the progress of those meetings.

Last week, Mitchell failed last week to bridge the gap between the two sides on the issue of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory.

Obama wants Israel to freeze all settlement construction, a condition for Abbas to resume peace negotiations, but Netanyahu has committed only to a partial halt.

In Israel, Netanyahu's refusal to freeze settlements hasn't gone far enough for hardliners.

"I am afraid that Prime Minister Netanyahu might go farther with his policy of making further concessions to the Palestinians, and it does not bring peace any closer," Danny Dayyan, head of the Settlers' Council, told the CBC.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials insisted the meeting was more about courtesy than concessions.

"This is something that comes as a step, a positive step … from the Palestinian side towards Mr. Obama rather than towards Mr. Netanyahu," said Hassan Abu Libda.

The meeting will take place on the sidelines of this week's annual United Nations General Assembly, part of a marathon day of international diplomacy for Obama as he sprints through high-profile global problems and disputes.

In addition to the three-way Mideast talks, Obama will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao at a tense time in the Washington-Beijing relationship. Then he will play luncheon host, as America's first black president, to sub-Saharan African leaders for talks on boosting opportunities for young people in their nations.

He will also deliver key speeches to former president Bill Clinton's Global Initiative and to a UN heads-of-state session on the stalled issue of climate change.

With files from The Associated Press