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 Obama pushes for resolution of Mideast issues

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PostSubject: Obama pushes for resolution of Mideast issues   Obama pushes for resolution of Mideast issues I_icon_minitimeSat Jun 06, 2009 5:44 pm

US President Barack Obama Friday pressed Israel and the Arab states to make "hard choices" on the road to peace, in a vigorous follow-up to his landmark speech to the Muslim world.

Obama said his government had created the "space, the atmosphere," to revive stalled peace moves, but warned that the United States could not force the parties to make historic compromises needed to defuse years of tensions.

The president spoke after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dresden, and before making an poignant visit to honour Jews who perished in the Nazi Holocaust at the Buchenwald concentration camp.

"I think the moment is now for us to act on what we all know to be the truth, which is that each side is going to have to make some difficult compromises," Obama said.

"The United States can't solve this problem," Obama said, arguing that parties in the Middle East need to make their own decisions to embrace negotiations and compromise. "We can't force them to make those difficult decisions."

After heaping pressure over Israel on settlements in recent days, Obama also turned up the heat on Arab states, following talks in the last two days with Saudi King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"What I'd like to see is indicators that they are willing, if Israel makes tough commitments, to also make some hard choices that will allow for an opening of commerce, diplomatic exchanges between Israel and its neighbors."

He called on the Palestinian leaders to do more to secure Israeli borders and to cut down on incitement of hatred against Israel.

"I think, to his credit, president Abbas has made progress on this issue -- but not enough," Obama said.

The president also said he was "very sympathetic" to the political turmoil stirred in Israel by his demands on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to halt all expansion of settlements.

But he promised no easing of pressure on the hawkish coalition, which some experts warn could collapse if it makes significant gestures towards the Palestinians.

"As Israel's friend, the United States I think has an obligation to just be honest with that friend about how important it is to achieve a two-state solution," Obama said.

Obama and Merkel met as the Middle East digested his strident call for a "new beginning" with the Muslim world delivered in Cairo on Thursday.

In what may be one of the defining moments of his presidency, Obama laid out a new blueprint for US Middle East policy, pledging to end mistrust, forge a state for Palestinians and defuse a nuclear showdown with Iran.

He said, with Merkel at his side, that he realized that the speech was no substitute for the tough grind of difficult diplomacy.

"Yesterday was just one speech and it doesn't replace all the hard work that's going to have to be done," Obama said, noting that he was sending his envoy George Mitchell to the region to follow up on his own trip, next week.

"I'm under no illusions that whatever statements I've put forward somehow are going to supplant the need to do that work."

Merkel meanwhile, paid tribute to Obama's speech and offered Germany's help in the diplomatic heavy lifting to come.

"We also talked about a possible timeframe for possible progress to be made," Merkel said, though US officials could not later divulge whether the two leaders had focused on such an issue during the private portion of their talks at Dresden palace.

Obama has in the past avoided putting what he calls an "artificial" timetable on diplomatic efforts and the drive to forge a Palestinian state.

After his visit to Buchenwald, Obama was set to visit US troops wounded in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, at the Landstuhl military hospital.

Later Friday, he heads to France, ahead of 65th anniversary celebrations of the allied D-Day Normandy landings in World War II.
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