Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been invited to Washington to begin direct peace talks on Sept. 2, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a press conference on Friday.
The meeting will serve to "re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final-status issues which we believe we can complete in one year," Clinton said.
"There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles. The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks. But I ask the parties to persevere," Clinton said.
U.S. President Barack Obama will hold one-on-one talks with each of the leaders, separately, on Sept. 1, followed by a dinner with them, Clinton said.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the special representative of the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the U.S., the UN, the European Union and Russia - also has been invited to attend the dinner, she said.
Clinton said she would then host the first direct Israel-Palestinian negotiating session on September 2.
The leaders of Egypt and Jordan have also been invited to join in the first session of direct talks.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday welcomed the U.S. invitation to launch direct peace talks with Palestinians.
"Israel wants serious and comprehensive talks," Netanyahu said in response to Clinton's statement on Friday. "We are coming to these talks with a serious desire to reach a peace agreement between nations, while still preserving Israel's national interests, security being the foremost of them."
Middle East envoy George Mitchell reiterated Cinton's statement, saying, "We believe it can be done within a year and that is our objective."
Mitchell said subsequent negotiating sessions with Netanyahu and Abbas probably will be held in the Mideast, but he mentioned no specific site.
Emphasizing that the U.S. would not impose peace on the parties, Mitchell said "I don't want anyone to have the impression that we are going to supplant or displace the roles of the parties themselves."
"This must in the end be an agreement by the parties themselves," Mitchell added.
When a reporter posed a question about Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, Mitchell responded that the U.S. position on settlement building remained unchanged.
"Let's be clear that the declaration of the moratorium itself last November was a significant action which has had a significant effect on new housing construction starts in the West Bank," Mitchell said, noting that he expects both parties to promote an environment conducive to negotiations.
The Middle East Quartet released a statement following Friday's announcement, reaffirming their support for the resolution of all final-status issues.
Palestinian leaders welcomed the Quartet statement. Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the statement "contains the elements needed to provide for a peace agreement."
While not responding directly to Clinton's invitation to Washington, Erekat said peace talks could be done in less than a year.
"The most important thing now is to see to it that the Israeli government refrains from settlement activities and incursions," Erekat added.
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