Associated Press
October 30, 2009 - 12:00am

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday offered cautious praise of a U.S.-backed, United Nations-drafted deal to curb Iran's contentious nuclear program.

Netanyahu called the deal "a positive first step" toward denying Tehran the means to make nuclear weaponry.

U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell held talks Friday with Netanyahu in Jerusalem as part of an intense and ongoing bid to revive broken-off peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

"I also wanted to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the president's ongoing efforts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear military capability," Netanyahu said at a brief welcome session video-taped by his office.

"I think that the proposal the president made in Geneva, to have Iran withdraw its enriched uranium - a portion of it - outside Iran is a positive first step in that direction."

Mitchell, meanwhile, said he looks forward to discussions "to achieve our common objective of a comprehensive peace in the region."

Mitchell arrived Thursday to prepare for a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, her first official trip to Israel since the Netanyahu government took office in March.

Kurt Hoyer, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, said the visit's exact details had yet to be worked out, but she would likely
arrive Sunday for one day of talks, without spending the night.

Clinton will travel to the Persian Gulf city of Abu Dhabi to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as part of the weekend effort to push both Palestinian and Israeli leaders to resume peace talks, a U.S. official said Friday.

After her meetings in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, on Saturday, Clinton will travel to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She will be joined by the Obama administration's special Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell.

The time and place of the meeting with Netanyahu were still being worked out early Friday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss planning.

The official indicated that Clinton saw her weekend meetings as a necessary step in the peace process, which has been stalled, even though there is no immediate prospect of a breakthrough on the key areas of dispute.

In announcing on Thursday that Clinton would hold the weekend talks, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said locations had not yet been set.

Her visit reflects the administration's commitment - and her personal commitment - to work through the challenges we face in pursuit of comprehensive Middle East peace, Crowley said in a statement.

Clinton reported last week to President Barack Obama that Mitchell had made little progress. Crowley noted that challenges remain as we continue to work with both sides.

He said the talks would take place ahead of meetings Clinton has scheduled with Arab foreign ministers in Morocco early next week.

The administration is committed to comprehensive peace, including a two-state solution, Crowley said.

Clinton was wrapping up on Friday a three-day visit to Pakistan.


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