Obama invites Middle East leaders to White House

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President Barack Obama stepped up his bid to encourage Middle East peace on Tuesday when he invited the leaders of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to the White House in the coming weeks.

Although the visits by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president, and Mahmoud Abbas, head of the PA, have been expected for some time, Mr Obama’s move raises expectations of breaking the current impasse in Arab-Israeli talks.

“It shows a real determination to get this process moving early in his term – a departure from the previous administration,” said an Arab diplomat, adding that the presidential level contacts complemented the work by George Mitchell, Mr Obama’s envoy for Middle East peace. “Hopefully it prepares the ground for a serious attempt to resume the diplomatic process over the course of the summer.”

Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman, said it was likely the three men would visit separately by early June.

The emphasis on Middle East peace may increase pressure on the new Israeli government of Mr Netanyahu, which has declined to endorse the internationally backed goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On Tuesday, at a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, Mr Obama described himself as a “strong supporter of a two-state solution” and called for good faith gestures from all sides in the coming months.

“What we want to do is to step back from the abyss,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama is also seeking to reinforce ties with Mr Mubarak, who has not visited the US since 2004, when he travelled to former president George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch.

Separately, the Obama administration is moving to increase its flexibility to continue aid to the Palestinians should the rival Hamas and Fatah parties succeed in talks to form a national unity government.

But pro-Israel lobby groups have expressed confidence that Congress would push back the proposed changes.

The spending bill proposed by the White House would soften conditions on providing assistance to a unity government while ruling out any direct aid to Hamas or to rogue armed groups.

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