US envoy Mitchell to meet top EU, French diplomats

15th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell will meet with the top EU and French diplomats this week as part of efforts to reset the Israeli-Palestinian peace process after months of setbacks.

Mitchell will meet EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels on Thursday before heading to Paris to meet French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, the State Department said Wednesday.

The United States is looking to chart a new course after abandoning its quest to get Israel to freeze settlement construction, a key Palestinian demand for face-to-face negotiations.

A Palestinian official in Ramallah said Mitchell had proposed six weeks of "parallel" talks during a meeting with president Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday.

But State Department spokesman Philip Crowley declined to confirm the report, saying: "I've resisted putting a label on that."

"We're waiting in terms of the next step for a reaffirmation of the support of the Arab Follow-up Committee... We're focused on the substance. That's the best vehicle to move towards a framework agreement," he said.

The group of Arab foreign ministers -- which had backed Abbas in launching negotiations earlier this year -- said it would not endorse further talks unless they were based on a "serious offer" to end the decades-old conflict.

Israel and the Palestinians relaunched direct negotiations in September but the talks collapsed within weeks after the expiration of a 10-month moratorium on Israeli settlement construction.

The Palestinians view the presence of some 500,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank including annexed east Jerusalem as a major threat to the establishment of their promised state and saw US demands for a building freeze as a crucial test of Israel's intentions.

© 2010 AFP

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