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Foreign news roundup: Indirect talks closer for Israelis, Palestinians

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

MIDDLE EAST

Another small step toward indirect talks

Israel and the Palestinians crept closer to indirect peace talks Wednesday as U.S. Middle East envoy George J. Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to set the rules for Palestinian statehood discussions.

Given how often Israelis and Palestinians have met face-to-face over the past 17 years, achieving the rather modest goal of indirect talks led by a U.S. mediator has proved staggeringly difficult.

The stalemate in recent months has been over the sequencing of the issues. Israel wants negotiations to begin with a discussion of security arrangements and a Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, an Israeli official said. For the Palestinians, the two paramount issues are territorial borders -- precisely how much of the West Bank Israel will surrender -- and the future of Jerusalem.

Despite a climate of mistrust, the Obama administration has decided to delve deeply into Middle East peacemaking, with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates saying recently that the lack of progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace is affecting U.S. national security interests.

Mitchell, who has been informally shuttling between the sides, plans to see Netanyahu again Thursday, the prime minister's office said. On Saturday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may formally agree to resume negotiations that have been dormant for 16 months.

-- Janine Zacharia

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban bombers strike in southwest

Taliban suicide bombers disguised as police officers attacked a government compound in southwestern Afghanistan on Wednesday in an assault that left 13 people dead, including a provincial council member and all nine attackers, authorities said.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack, which came as the provincial council was meeting in Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province. The militant group said the council was trying to turn Afghans against the militants.


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