The White House is making a last-minute diplomatic effort to come up with some significant statement signaling the revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to conclude the tripartite summit in New York Tuesday. However, the White House Monday said the administration has no "grand expectations" for President Barack Obama's meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday that Obama was looking to "continue to build on progress" in regional talks. "We have no grand expectations out of one meeting," said Gibbs.
Obama is to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York Tuesday morning.
The meeting will be held at the Waldorf Astoria, after separate meetings between Obama and each of the leaders.
Netanyahu, who landed in New York last night, said recently that even if the peace talks are not resumed at the end of the summit meeting, they would start again after the holidays, in mid-October.
The Palestinians say the meeting will not constitute negotiations, since Abbas has refused to hold peace talks with Netanyahu until Israel freezes settlement construction.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who left for Washington on Sunday, met U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones and the presidential adviser Dennis Ross. They discussed various formulas that would make the summit more than a mere "photo-op."
Barak met Netanyahu before dawn Monday.
One idea to "upgrade" the summit was that Obama would announce at the end of the meeting that Israel has agreed to suspend construction in the settlements temporarily. This would be seen as an achievement and would jump-start the talks, a Jerusalem source said.
Another idea was to have Obama announce the United States was interested in resuming the talks in mid-October, after further talks with the two parties.
Obama could also announce that the sides are close to resuming the peace talks and call for an international peace conference in the next few months, at which the negotiations would be launched, the source said.
Barak told Jones and Ross Monday that "Israel is interested in the peace process led by Obama, based on an agreement with the Palestinians."
Barak said any settlement would have to preserve Israel's security interests and include an agreement to end the conflict and end the mutual demands.
After the summit Netanyahu is scheduled to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The French president is expected to propose to Netanyahu that he attend the Union for the Mediterranean conference due to be held in Paris in November. Sarkozy will tell Netanyahu that he would like the conference to be a platform for Arab states to begin normalizing their relations with Israel.
The two are also expected to discuss ways of dealing with Iran's nuclear program.
On Thursday at 1 P.M. New York time Netanyahu will address the UN's General Assembly, in English, and focus on the Iranian threat.
Netanyahu, who arrived with his wife Sara and all his aides and advisers in the Prime Minister's Bureau, worked on his speech until 3 A.M. Monday. He will call on the international community to act resolutely to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who will join Netanyahu in New York, will hold several meetings with his counterparts, the most important of which is scheduled with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
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