Obama Urges Israel to Extend Settlement Moratoriumhttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/world/middleeast/11diplo.html
WASHINGTON — President Obama called Friday for Israel to extend its moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank as a good-will gesture to move peace talks with the Palestinians forward.
During a wide-ranging news conference at the White House, Mr. Obama said that while the politics of extending the moratorium would be difficult for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, given his conservative government coalition, he had nonetheless asked Mr. Netanyahu to extend it when they met recently in Washington.
“What I’ve said to Prime Minister Netanyahu is that given, so far, the talks are moving forward in a constructive way, it makes sense to extend that moratorium,” Mr. Obama said, in remarks that took some administration officials by surprise.
Mr. Obama said he had also told Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, that he, too, had to make gestures to Israel to keep the peace talks going. The negotiations began last week in Washington.
“You’ve got to show the Israeli public that you are serious and constructive in these talks so that the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu, if he were to extend the settlements moratorium, would be a little bit easier,” Mr. Obama said he had told Mr. Abbas.
Mr. Obama’s remarks on Friday were significant because the settlement construction moratorium, which is scheduled to expire Sept. 26, is looming as the first hurdle in the nascent peace talks. His comments surprised some administration officials because of a customary concern that the United States not appear to be pushing Israel.
But a member of the administration said American officials had already been privately prodding their Israeli counterparts to look for ways to extend the moratorium. In many ways, Mr. Obama was simply acknowledging an open secret.
Israeli officials have given no indication that they would extend the moratorium, and Mr. Abbas has said he would walk away from the negotiations if settlement construction resumed.
Mr. Obama acknowledged the pressures Mr. Abbas faced from those who opposed the talks.
“I think President Abbas came here despite great misgivings and pressure from the other side, because he understood the window for creating a Palestinian state is closing,” Mr. Obama said. “And there are a whole bunch of parties in the region who purport to be friends of the Palestinians, and yet do everything they can to avoid the path that would actually lead to a Palestinian state, would actually lead to their goal.”
During the news conference, Mr. Obama also acknowledged that the presence on the Central Intelligence Agency’s payroll of Afghan officials whom Western nations have accused of corruption sent a bad message, especially while the United States was pressing the Afghan government to curb corruption.
“Are there going to be occasions where we look and see that some of our folks on the ground have made compromises with people who are known to have engaged in corruption?” Mr. Obama said. “We’re reviewing all that constantly, and there may be occasions where that happens.”
Mr. Obama said the United States had “got to make sure that we’re not sending a mixed message here.”
“So one of the things that I’ve said to my national security team,” he said, “is, ‘Let’s be consistent, in terms of how we operate, across agencies. Let’s make sure that our efforts there are not seen as somehow giving a wink and a nod to corruption. If we are saying publicly that that’s important, then our actions have to match up across the board.’ But it is a challenging environment in which to do that.”