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Obama Envoy Tells Israel US Wants Palestinian State

Jeffrey Heller

U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell (L) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah April 17, 2009. (REUTERS/Fadi Arouri)

JERUSALEM - U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy told Israel's ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on Thursday that Washington wants to see the creation of a Palestinian state.

"I reiterated to the foreign minister that U.S. policy favours, with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a two-state solution which will have a Palestinian state living in peace alongside the Jewish state of Israel," envoy George Mitchell told reporters, with Lieberman at his side.

"We look forward also to efforts to achieving comprehensive peace throughout the region," Mitchell said.

Lieberman has rejected restarting statehood negotiations with the Palestinians that were launched by then-U.S. President George W. Bush at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland in 2007.

In his comments to reporters, Lieberman made no mention of a Palestinian state, an issue that could put Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-leaning government on a collision course with Obama.

"It was a great opportunity to exchange some ideas, and we spoke about really close cooperation," Lieberman said about his meeting with Mitchell.

Mitchell, a former U.S. senator who mediated in the Northern Ireland peace process, planned to hold talks later in the day with Netanyahu and see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.

Netanyahu has so far refused to commit himself to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

He has said he wants to focus any future peace negotiations with the Palestinians on economic and security matters, rather than thorny issues such as statehood borders, and the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Mitchell said that Lieberman told him about Israel's desire to "make economic improvements" in the West Bank.

Palestinian leaders have rejected any notion of an "economic peace" and have said U.S.-backed talks with Israel could not resume until Netanyahu committed to statehood.

Mitchell is on his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories since Netanyahu's government was inaugurated on March 31.

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