Obama, Abbas to meet as UN showdown looms

AFP , Wednesday 21 Sep 2011

US president Barack Obama enters the meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas with hope to convince him to give up going to the Security Council to get the state recognition

Abbas
Previous between Obama and Abbas in the White House

President Barack Obama was to meet Mahmud Abbas Wednesday as diplomats scrambled behind the scenes to convince the Palestinian leader to drop his bid for UN membership of a Palestinian state.

Both the United States and the Europeans appeared to be working to buy more time to avert the looming clash, with Abbas determined to press ahead with plans to submit a formal application to UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday.

Obama was to meet Abbas on Wednesday, just hours after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a US official said.

"The president will be able to say, very directly, why he believes that an action at the United Nations is not a way to achieve a Palestinian state," national security advisor Ben Rhodes said.

"President Abbas has indicated his intent to go to the Security Council. President Obama has been clear that we do not believe that that will lead to a Palestinian state.

"The second point though, what we're focused on, is having a basis for direct negotiations to achieve a Palestinian state," he added.

Obama has already called for negotiations to resume using the 1967 lines -- encompassing the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip -- as a starting point for the contours of an eventual Palestinian state.

European diplomats and the Middle East Quartet -- comprising the European Union, the United States, the United Nations and Russia -- were all seeking to head off the confrontation.

Sources close to the negotiations who asked to remain anonymous said the focus was on trying to buy time to allow a broader path towards resuming the direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which last collapsed in September 2010.

One possibility was that Ban would not hand over Abbas's letter straight away to the Security Council, a European source told AFP, adding there were other "diplomatic airbags" that could be used to defuse tensions.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who met Tuesday with Abbas, was also expected to unveil a breakthrough during his speech to the opening of the UN assembly in Wednesday, French sources told AFP.

Abbas meanwhile held a whirlwind of talks in New York on Tuesday.

"Intense diplomacy to prevent a diplomatic train crash on Middle East peace. We must find a way forward for everyone," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a message on Twitter.

Several diplomats said the aim was to find a plan that would satisfy both sides, while also avoiding an escalation of violence in the volatile region.

"It's up to us, and mainly to our counterpart, the Palestinian leadership, Mahmud Abbas, and to others, to show the leadership and start to move," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN late Tuesday.

The Palestinians need nine votes out of the 15 Security Council members for their bid for UN statehood to proceed. Moscow, one of the five permanent members, has already expressed its support for the move.

European nations are working behind the scenes to try to avert the confrontation, with the Middle East Quartet also seeking to draw up a statement that would coax Israel and the Palestinians back to talks.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the Quartet statement.

But British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who met Abbas Tuesday, said "no progress" had yet been made on drafting it.

In a letter to Britain's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, Hague said he was working to find a way forward and "create the strongest possible foundation for a return to negotiations."

But former US president Bill Clinton told CNN: "There is a widespread feeling in the world that the current Israeli government may have abandoned the intention of working with the Palestinians to create a state on the West Bank in Gaza and just doesn't want to say it."

The Palestinians have meanwhile been buoyed by about 120 countries that have unilaterally recognized a state of Palestine or backed such a position.

But if the Palestinians fail to win over nine Security Council members, any resolution would fail, saving Obama from an embarrassing US veto.

Another option could then be for the UN General Assembly to welcome the Palestinians as an enhanced observer, a status so far enjoyed only by the Vatican.

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