Washington seeks framework for peace, not ‘final accord,’ US envoy says

US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell on Wednesday said the US is pressing Palestinians and Israelis to sign a general framework agreement. The framework, according to Palestinians, distances the two parties from achieving a final peace accord. 

In September, direct peace talks launched in Washington, raising hopes for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with 1967 border demarcations.

"In the days ahead our discussions with both sides will be substantive, two-way conversations with an eye towards making real progress in the next few months on the key questions of an eventual framework agreement," Mitchell told reporters in Cairo after his talks with President Hosni Mubarak.

Israelis and Palestinians agreed in September, Mitchell said, "to pursue a framework agreement that would establish the fundamental compromises on all permanent status issues…(to) pave the way for a final peace treaty."

"That remains our goal," Mitchell said.

The Middle East envoy returned to the region on Monday after Washington acknowledged it had failed to secure a new Israeli settlement freeze, effectively signaling the end of direct peace talks and a return to the "proximity" talks–overseen by Mitchell–that began in May.

He met separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders before heading to Cairo on Wednesday for talks with Mubarak and Arab League chief Amr Moussa.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas met with Mubarak earlier on Wednesday to seek advice on the next steps in the peace process, following Washington's failure to persuade Israel to halt settlement building in the occupied West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem.

Abbas–who demands a settlement freeze as a condition to resume negotiations–is due to brief a ministerial Arab follow-up committee on "ideas" submitted by Washington to salvage the peace process.

"Mitchell brought some US ideas," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said on Tuesday, after inconclusive talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah between Mitchell and Abbas. "We will wait for the Arab Committee to discuss (them) and to decide."

"We will continue discussions with the Arabs to decide the coming steps."

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