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US: Obama meets Mubarak at the White House

By Stephen Collinson
Wed Aug 19 02:18:38 EST 2009

WASHINGTON, Aug 18 AFP - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak arrived at the White House for talks on Tuesday, urging President Barack Obama to force US-ally Israel to negotiate crucial final status issues with the Palestinians.

Mubarak's first formal presidential summit in the United States in five years comes as Obama's early vow to throw himself into regional peace moves hits a wall of intransigence from Israel and the Arab states.

Obama has been pushing Arab states to make small concessions to Israel to unlock deadlocked peace moves and has called on the Jewish state to halt expansion of settlements on the occupied West Bank -- so far to little effect.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs cautioned reporters to expect no big announcements after Obama's one-on-one Oval Office talks with Mubarak, to be followed by meetings with expanded delegations and lunch.

"This is part of our continued outreach and consistent engagement in order to seek Middle East peace," Gibbs said.

"The president will take the opportunity to talk about the responsibilities that we see for them in this process."

Mubarak set out his stall for the talks in a long interview with US public television's "Charlie Rose Show" on Monday, warning that Washington must not let a settlement showdown with Israel obscure wider goals of the peace push.

"Instead of saying stopping more settlements and we heard this many times, now for over 10 years and never come to a stop," Mubarak said.

"What I can say is that we have to consider the whole issue holistically, to negotiate on the final resolution."

The US strategy of coaxing Arab states into making small concessions to Israel, for instance on cultural links or allowing Israeli passenger planes to overfly their territory, has yet to bear fruit.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal last month bluntly rejected a "step-by-step" diplomatic approach and instead called on Washington to force the conversation onto core issues like Palestinian statehood and refugees.

"The question is not what the Arab world will offer," Prince Saud said in Washington.

"The question really is: what will Israel give in exchange for this comprehensive offer."