Tom Perry
January 14, 2010 - 1:00am

Earlier, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made clear he still wants U.S. President Barack Obama to press Israel to halt all expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem before he would consider new negotiations.

U.S. national security advisor Jim Jones told Abbas in Ramallah that Washington was "trying very hard to find a way to resume the negotiations," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters after the meeting.

Jones, who also met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, is touring the region as part of a renewed effort to broker a resumption of the peace talks stalled for more than a year. George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy for Middle East peace, is also due to visit in the coming days.

Appearing to pour cold water on the new U.S. push, Abbas said in an interview he would resist pressure to resume negotiations unless his demands on Jewish settlements were met.

Abbas has insisted on a complete halt to Israeli building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and is not satisfied with a partial, temporary freeze ordered by Netanyahu. Abbas has so far resisted U.S. pressure to return to talks with Israel.

Asked by Egypt's Voice of the Arabs radio how he would react if the United States insisted on an immediate resumption of talks, Abbas said: "We will not accept this and we have already conveyed our position to the American administration."

U.S. pressure to resume talks without a full settlement freeze was "unjust," he said in the interview conducted this week and rebroadcast by Voice of Palestine radio on Thursday.

Netanyahu's office said the Israeli prime minister and Jones discussed "advancement of the diplomatic process with the Palestinians" and regional security -- a likely reference to shared concerns about Iran's nuclear program.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations straight away and to focus immediately on agreeing the borders of a Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem, suggesting this could break the deadlock over Jewish settlements. U.S. and regional officials have said the United States is looking at what assurances it might provide the Palestinians and Israelis -- possibly in the form of letters -- that might help the parties get back to the table.

Asked whether U.S. guarantees would persuade him to resume negotiations, Abbas said: "They already gave guarantees. These guarantees did not do anything. We do not want guarantees.

"We want (the United States) to tell Israel to fully freeze settlement for a period of time and then we resume negotiations," he said.

Obama disappointed Abbas last year when he softened his demand for a settlement building freeze, instead calling on Israel to exercise restraint in construction in the lands it captured in a 1967 Middle East war.

Abbas said if the United States was not able to force Israel to halt settlement, "how it could implement an agreed deal?"

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Tom Perry in Ramallah; editing by Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem and Paul Taylor)


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