Obama: Time for Palestinians, Israel to resume peace talks
In interview with pan-Arab satellite network Al-Arabiya, Obama praises Saudi-authored Arab peace initiative.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that Israel and the Palestinians should resume their peace negotiations and he praised Saudi King Abdullah for putting forward an Arab plan for peace in the Middle East.
Obama, in his first interview with Arab television since becoming president, told al-Arabiya television his administration would adopt a more comprehensive approach in its relations with the Muslim world.
"It is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what's happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan," Obama told the Dubai-based Arabic cable channel. "These things are interrelated."
Obama said his administration had begun to fulfill his campaign promises by naming former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell as a Mideast peace envoy and sending him to the region within days of his becoming president.
Mitchell was traveling to the region on Monday evening.
"Ultimately we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what is best for them. They are going to have to make some decisions," Obama said.
"But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table."
Obama pledged on Monday that Mitchell would engage "vigorously and consistently" in the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace and would seek concrete results.
"The cause of peace in the Middle East is important to the United States and our national interests. It's important to me personally," Obama, who has made Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy a high priority for his new administration, told reporters while meeting with Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Mitchell was scheduled to leave for the Middle East later Monday.
Obama said he was dispatching Mitchell fully aware that there would be no overnight success, but with greater hope for progress in establishing an Israeli-Palestinian peace because the administration was engaging in an early fashion.
"Sen. Mitchell is fully empowered by me and Secretary Clinton," Obama said during a brief photo opportunity before the meeting began. "When he speaks, he speaks for us."
Earlier Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood held a briefing ahead of Mitchell's trip, telling reporters that the new Mideast envoy did not intend to visit Syria, nor did he plan to speak with Hamas during his first mission. Rather, he planned to listen to regional leaders and assess the situation.
Mitchell was scheduled to land in Cairo Monday night and hold some meetings on Tuesday; he was then scheduled to continue to Tel-Aviv and then the West Bank city of Ramallah for two days. From there, he was to continue to Amman and Riyadh.