Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday and emphasized that Israel's new coalition government is an opportunity to restart negotiations with the Palestinians.
Mofaz met with U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on Thursday, and several minutes into the start of the meeting, Obama decided to join the two.
Mofaz told Obama that the new 94-member coalition that was set up in Israel, after his party Kadima joined the government, posed a window of opportunity to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"The Americans have a strong will to advance the process," Mofaz told Haaretz following the meeting. "This time there are no preconditions… from my talks with U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and the National Security Adviser, I feel that there is support for talks without preconditions."
Mofaz also called on Obama to step up sanctions on Iran in light of the failed talks in Moscow on Iran's controversial nuclear program.
Mofaz said after the meeting that he received the U.S. commitment from Obama and Senators to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.
Mofaz said that U.S. officials assured him that "harsh sanctions will go into effect next month."
The Obama administration has been accelerating diplomatic efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians back to peace talks although there is little evidence the two sides are ready to resume direct negotiations.
With most Mideast experts focused on the crisis in Syria and political upheaval in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has stepped up contacts with Israeli and Palestinian officials over the past week to persuade them to return to the table, beginning with a high-level meeting between Mofaz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Clinton met on Wednesday with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mofaz. Last week, Clinton met Israel's lead negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, and spoke by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas.
U.S. officials say the goal is to improve the atmosphere for direct talks that broke down three years ago and have yet to be resuscitated despite the administration's multiple attempts. Recent developments, including announcements of new Israeli settlement construction and attacks from Gaza into Israel, have done nothing to improve the prospects for talks.
"We are working hard at keeping these parties working and talking, and trying to keep them committed to this process," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday. "The process is still very much alive. I don't dispute the fact that we've had some bad incidents on the ground this week ... but that is further to why these parties need to stay engaged."
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