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Mitchell briefs Jewish leaders on Mideast plans

WASHINGTON (JTA) — George Mitchell told Jewish leaders he would not "pre-judge" the settlement issue.

Mitchell in an on-the-record conference call Thursday morning briefed the leaders on his work thus far as Middle East special envoy.

Just two days before he leaves for his second trip to the region as envoy, Mitchell said settlements were "an important issue, but not the only issue," according to a participant on the call. The former senator said that while Palestinian and other Arab leaders bring up settlements in every conversation, he will not pre-judge the issue.

Mitchell stressed that economic development for the Palestinians must be in unison with diplomatic efforts in the region and that final-status talks must be considered when embarking on earlier-stage discussions. He compared the process to building a house in that the first floor may be built before the second, but one must have a conception of the entire house before building.

The envoy also noted that divisions among the Palestinians made dialogue more difficult.

Mitchell said he was struck while reading the "Mitchell Report" on the region he wrote eight years ago how much has changed in that time. For instance, he said, Iran was not mentioned in that document, but the country was brought up in the "first sentence" of his initial meetings with every leader in the region, according to another participant on the call.

Mitchell said that reports in the Israeli press about the U.S. government trying to influence the formation of the Israeli government were incorrect and that the Obama administration is not in any way trying to encourage any particular outcome of coalition talks. And he emphasized that the United States was committed to maintaining Israel’s "qualitative" military edge in the region.

Mitchell also announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be attending the March 2 Gaza Donors Conference in Cairo, which would mark her first visit to the region as secretary.

The conference call was the second this week by the White House with Jewish leaders. A call Monday focused on the Obama administration’s decision to take part in a preparatory meeting for the Durban II conference.

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