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MID: Arabs vow to support Obama's Mideast peace drive

25 Jun 2009 1:49 AM

CAIRO, June 24, 2009 (AFP) - Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo vowed on Wednesday to support US President Barack Obama's Middle East peace efforts, but said normalisation with Israel depends on its halting settlement activity.

Arab countries "are prepared to deal positively with the proposals of President Obama to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict," the ministers said in a statement after a meeting at the Arab League headquarters.

They vowed to "take the necessary steps to support the American effort based on achieving comprehensive peace and the creation of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital."

Obama has made relaunching the Middle East peace process a top priority, pledging a "new beginning" for Islam and America in a landmark speech to the world's Muslims made in Cairo earlier this month.

He has also bluntly called for Israel to halt settlement activity while urging Arabs to move closer to making peace with Israel.

The Arab ministers in Cairo did not spell out the steps they planned to take but said that in order to normalise relations with Israel the Jewish State "must put a complete stop to settlement activity including in East Jerusalem."

Their statement comes just two weeks after US envoy George Mitchell called on Arab states to take "meaningful steps and important actions" to make peace with Israel.

"We are working hard to achieve our objective, a comprehensive peace in the Middle East," Mitchell said during a trip to Egypt.

This includes "peace between Israel and its other immediate neighbours and full normalisation of relations between Israel and all of the Arab nations as contemplated by the Arab peace initiative," he said.

The 2002 initiative, backed by all 22 members of the Arab League, offers Israel full normalisation in return for a withdrawal from territory occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, a Palestinian state and an equitable solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

A meeting between Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled for Wednesday was called off because of disagreements over settlement growth, Israeli media reported.

Officials close to Netanyahu said he had called off the meeting and denied an Israeli newspaper report that Washington had cancelled it over Israel's refusal to halt "natural growth" in the settlements.