Mideast peace talks may not reach fruition before their initial September 2011 deadline, a U.S. State Department official said on Monday, citing recent negotiations deadlock over Israel's refusal to extend its moratorium on settlement building as one reason for the delay.
Speaking prior to September's relaunch of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said that the administration thought it could negotiate an agreement "within a one-year time frame."
The sentiment was also echoed at the time by U.S. Special Mideast Envoy George Mitchell as well as by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he did not return to the post of prime minister in order to do nothing and that he was willing to make unprecedented concessions.
However, it seemed that the U.S. administration was beginning to reconsider the September 2011 deadline, following a prolonged peace talks deadlock over Israel's refusal to extend its freeze on settlement building.
Speaking with reporters on Monday, Crowley, referring to the deadline, said: "I can't stand here and say, you know, do we have to reset the clock to, you know, September or October of next year."
"We -- at the start of this process, we felt that an agreement could be reached within 12 months. We still think an agreement can be reached. If it takes 12 -- if we can do it in 12 months, that would still be our goal," the U.S. official said.
While Crowley did state that it was still the administration's goal to reach a peace deal "within a reasonable period of time," he added that it was "hard to say at this point, you know, given the delay over the issue of settlements, where we stand on that clock."
"But the first step in the process is to get them back to the -- to the bargaining table. Once we get them back to the bargaining table, we believe that both sides then have the ability to move forward," the State Department spokesman said.
Speaking of the possibility that the two sides may indeed go over the announced deadline, Crowley said that if talks continue until "August 2011 and we need a little more time to get this done, we'll take that time."
"But what we said at the outset of this process was that we believe that agreement can be reached. We haven't changed our view. There's sufficient knowledge about the issues at the heart of the process. We fervently believe that these can be -- can be worked through and arrive at a just agreement that meets the security needs of the -- of Israel and the aspirations for a state, you know, for the Palestinian people," Crowley added.
"And then once we get into the negotiation once again, you know, then we would hope that, you know -- you know, the parties will advance systematically through the core issues, you know, to an agreement," he said.
Earlier Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Netanyahu's plan to extend a freeze on West Bank settlements in return for diplomatic and security incentives.
"This is a very promising development and a serious effort by Prime Minister Netanyahu," Clinton said, declining comment on the details of his plan but stressing that the United States was in close contact with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
"We are going to continue to do everything we possibly can to get the parties to begin the kind of serious, end-game negotiations that are necessary" to end the conflict, she added.
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