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Obama planning Middle East PR blitz

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration is planning a public relations campaign in Israel and the Arab world to explain its peace moves.

The New York Times quoted administration officials Monday as saying the campaign would include interviews with President Obama on Israeli and Arab television. Jewish officials have urged Obama in recent weeks to directly address Israelis about his peace plans.

The Times revelation came in an interview with George Mitchell, Obama’s envoy to Middle East peace talks. Mitchell rejected assertions that Arab nations were reluctant to make the overtures to Israel that would facilitate Israeli concessions, including the settlement freeze sought by the Obama administration.

“We’ve gotten, overall, a very good response, a desire to act, some public statements to that effect from the crown prince of Bahrain, the president of Egypt,” Mitchell told the Times.

State Department officials have emphasized that they are seeking simultaneous steps from all sides.

Ian Kelly, the State Department spokesman, said July 30 that the United States has been urging Arab states to take steps towards normalization, and "we’ve said repeatedly that it’s essential that all countries in the region take parallel steps that create a context where — or create an atmosphere whereby — negotiations can begin." 

Obama is intensifying his outreach: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in recent days has hosted her Saudi and Jordanian counterparts, and Obama pressed the issue Monday in a White House meeting with Sheik Sabah, the emir of Kuwait.

Sabah stressed adherence to the Saudi-led Arab League peace initiative, which posits comprehensive peace in exchange for Israel’s return to 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem.

"I affirmed to President Obama that we are interested in bringing about peace in the Middle East," the Kuwaiti leader said.  "It is in our interest that peace be brought about.  And the indicator is that the recent Arab peace initiative that was agreed upon by all of the Arab parties and states, and we would implement this peace initiative when Israel implements and fulfills its obligations."

Also Monday, the White House announced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would meet Obama in Washington on Aug. 18.

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