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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Obama to push Israelis, Palestinians on peace

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will urge Palestinian, Israeli and Egyptian leaders to take the steps necessary to achieve peace in the Middle East when they visit Washington this month, the White House said on Tuesday.

The White House said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would visit on May 18, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on May 26 and President Mahmoud Abbas on May 28.

"With each of them, the president will discuss ways the United States can strengthen and deepen our partnerships, as well as the steps all parties should take to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and the Arab states," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Obama has pledged to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a high foreign policy priority for his administration and has dispatched former Senator George Mitchell as a special envoy to the region.

The Obama administration has also stepped up pressure on Israel's new government to accept the goal of a Palestinian state and halt expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land. Since coming to power in March, Netanyahu has balked at recognizing the goal of Palestinian statehood.

U.S. officials have so far declined to comment on a newspaper interview in which Jordan's King Abdullah, a recent visitor to the White House, said Obama was drawing up a new peace plan for the Middle East.

The Times of London said the peace initiative could form the centerpiece of his major address to the Muslim world in Egypt on June 4.

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