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Barak sees progress in Mitchell meeting

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Ehud Barak said progress was made in his meeting with George Mitchell, but there is also "still a way to go."

The Israeli defense minister said his three hours of talks Monday with the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East were "good and constructive," according to media reports. Barak said he was optimistic about the chances of "preparing the ground for launching a major peace process."

A joint statement issued by the two said they "re-affirmed their commitment to the common objective of a regional peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon and the steps necessary to achieve it," including "measures on security and incitement by the Palestinians; steps by Arab states toward normalization with Israel; and from Israel, actions on access and movement in the West Bank and on settlement activity."

Barak told reporters that he discussed with Mitchell the ways in which "our slight differences regarding how to deal with the issue of settlements" would be "clarified but within the context of the need to push ahead the wider peace agreement."

Israeli Army Radio reported that Barak promised to evacuate 23 illegal outposts within weeks or months.

Barak also said that the United States was "active" in pressing Arab governments to ease sanctions on Israel in exchange for a freeze in Israeli settlement activity.

"While they are demanding from Israel steps and concessions in order to enable this regional peace effort to take off, they are approaching the Arabs as well and asking what they can contribute" in starting to "normalize relations with Israel," he said.

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