Obama: Two-state talks are ‘critical’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama said the Israeli-Palestinian status quo was "unsustainable" and that working toward a two-state solution was "critical."

At a White House news conference Tuesday evening, Obama fielded a question on the incoming Israeli government to be led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said that talk of Palestinian statehood is premature.

"It’s not easier than it was, but I think it’s just as necessary," Obama said, describing the difficulty of negotiating peace under such circumstances. "We don’t yet know what the Israeli government is going to look like, and we don’t yet know what the future shape of Palestinian leadership is going to be comprised of. What we do know is this: that the status quo is unsustainable, that it is critical for us to advance a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in their own states with peace and security.

"And by assigning George Mitchell the task of working as special envoy, what we’ve signaled is that we’re going to be serious from day one in trying to move the parties in a direction that acknowledges that reality."

Obama, unprompted by any reporter, also knocked back critics of his friendly video message last week to Iran’s leadership offering engagement and recognition as part of serious talks about reducing Iran’s belligerent profile.

"When it comes to Iran, you know, we did a video, sending a message to the Iranian people and the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said. "And some people said, ‘Well, they did not immediately say that we’re eliminating nuclear weapons and stop funding terrorism.’ Well, we didn’t expect that. We expect that we’re going to make steady progress on this front."

Obama also said that he searched his soul before reversing Bush administration bans on embryonic stem-cell research, and suggested that he could reverse the allowance should stem cells culled from adults show promise in medical research.

"I am glad to see progress is being made in adult stem cells," he saod. "And if the science determines that we can completely avoid a set of ethical questions or political disputes, then that’s great. I have no investment in causing controversy. I’m happy to avoid it if that’s where the science leads us."

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