Major powers drawing up framework for Mideast talks
By Douglas Hamilton
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Major powers are working on a statement to set the basis for direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the European Union's foreign policy chief told EU foreign ministers Thursday.
High Representative Catherine Ashton said in a letter seen by Reuters the statement would be issued early next week, if both parties agreed to proceed to direct talks, and negotiations launched in August.
The EU works with the United States, Russia and the United Nations in a "Quartet" to promote a Middle East peace treaty.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indicated Monday he could go to direct talks, provided they were based on a March 19 statement by the Quartet.
Israeli newspapers said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. envoy George Mitchell Wednesday he wanted talks to start immediately without any such "precondition."
Ashton's letter said "Abbas is very close" to accepting direct talks. "In principle, President Abbas should be in a position to give a definitive answer by Sunday or early next week," it added.
Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev had no direct comment on the Israeli reports, which said Mitchell's mission to get both sides talking directly had failed over the Quartet proposal.
"The government of Israel has been calling for the immediate start of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians for more than a year now," Regev told Reuters. Continued...