WASHINGTON, May 3 (Patricia Zengerle/Reuters) - US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
discussed on Monday making full use of indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and moving to direct negotiations as soon as possible, the White House said.
Obama spoke with Netanyahu by telephone for about 20 minutes on Monday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, as US envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel
for the start of US-mediated negotiations, the first Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in more than a year.
The president spoke late this morning with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Gibbs said at his daily news briefing.
They discussed how best to work together to achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East, in particular by making full use of substantive proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians and transitioning to direct negotiations as soon as possible.
Gibbs said the two leaders also discussed regional challenges, and that Obama reaffirmed his unshakable commitment to the security of Israel.
Obama's peace efforts received a boost on Saturday when Arab states approved four months of US-mediated talks, whose expected start in March had been delayed by Israel's announcement of a settlement
project on occupied land near Jerusalem
Gibbs declined comment on whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
would meet with Obama in Washington this month.
In an interview published on Sunday in the Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam, Abbas said Obama had invited him to Washington later this month.
Calling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a direct security concern to the United States, Washington has pushed hard for a resumption of talks suspended since December 2008.
But many observers question whether the latest effort can succeed where years of diplomacy have failed.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Ramallah and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, editing by Eric Beech)