CAIRO, July 18 (Reuters) – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak hosted Palestinian and Israeli leaders and the U.S. peace envoy on Sunday, with a return to direct talks on the agenda but a breakthrough still seemingly distant.
While Egypt has long played a mediating role in Middle East politics, it is unusual for Cairo to host leaders on the same day, with shuttle diplomacy the preferred way of operating.
Still, none of the visitors saw the others, instead lining up back-to-back appointments with Mubarak, flanked by his foreign minister and top intelligence officer.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who is shuttling between the main players since a four-month window for indirect talks was agreed in May, held an hour-long meeting, then hurriedly left the presidency without briefing reporters.
Minutes after Mitchell’s convoy of tinted-window white cars rolled out, a convoy of similarly tinted black cars rolled in, escorting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who Mitchell met on Saturday in Ramallah.
Half an hour later Abbas was also gone, again without speaking to reporters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived soon after Abbas’ departure.
State news agency MENA reported that Mubarak’s talks with all three men focused on “efforts to create the conditions necessary to advance the peace process and achieve a two-state solution”. It did not elaborate.
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu said: “I intend to discuss with President Mubarak the ways to speed up the process of entering direct negotiations with the Palestinians. I know that Egypt is as interested in advancing the diplomatic process as we are.”
Abbas told a Jordanian newspaper on Saturday Israel must agree to the idea a third party, possibly NATO, would secure the borders of a future Palestinian state and set other terms necessary for a return to direct talks. [ID:nLDE66G05M]
Netanyahu did not refer to those terms in his comments.
Israel and the United States are both pushing for a speedy return to direct talks, while the Palestinians say they have yet to receive a clear response from Israel on issues such as the size and shape of a future Palestinian state, security and Israeli settlement activities in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu in November ordered a partial freeze on settlements that will lapse in September.
The long-stalled indirect talks are about halfway through their agreed four-month duration. (Writing by Alastair Sharp)