Middle East Quartet Meeting 'Excellent', Says U.S. Official

Representatives of the U.S., Russia, the EU and the UN dined in Washington and discussed renewing direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, but made no public statement.

Representatives of the Quartet for Middle East peace convened Monday night at the State Department in Washington, D.C. in an attempt to compare notes and find a way to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiation table.

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quartet - Reuters - July 12 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton preceded the meeting with comments proclaiming their determination to resolve outstanding issues through direct negotiations, and a senior U.S. official followed the meeting with words of cautious optimism.

After the meeting, one U.S. senior administration official called it an “excellent and serious discussion on the next steps. They expressed support for President Barack Obama’s May Middle East speech and called to start preparatory phases of talks without any preconditions."

"There are still gaps," the official said, "and they need to be closed before the Quartet can go forward with public statements." The official said the representatives will continue work Tuesday morning, admitting, "More work needs to be done."

“The Quartet will continue its engagement and do all it can to facilitate the talks," the official continued. "We need more work privately and quietly in order to close the gaps.”

In addition to Clinton and Ashton, those present at the meeting included United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

At a press conference with Clinton before the Quartet meeting, Ashton commented on the Palestinians' plans to apply for UN recognition of their state in September. “We don’t yet know what resolution there might be before the UN, and we’ll all have to make our decisions on the basis of what that is," she said.

"The most important issue as far as I’m concerned is to create the reality, and the work that we’re engaged in is trying to support both sides to get back into talks in order to create that reality," Ashton added. "And in a way, that will be the most important thing and the time when perhaps real celebrations can begin.”

Clinton echoed Ashton's sentiments. “What we strongly advocate is a return to negotiations, because a resolution, a statement, an assertion, is not an agreement. And the path to two states living side by side in peace and security lies through direct negotiations," she said.

"The sooner the parties get back to that, the sooner there can be the result that many of us have worked for a long time," Clinton added.