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U.S. finalizing groundwork for resuming talks

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration will "finalize the steps" for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks in the next few weeks, the White House spokesman said.

"The president said that Special Envoy (George) Mitchell would follow up with the parties in the next few weeks to finalize the steps they would take and lay the groundwork for resumption of negotiations," Robert Gibbs said Thursday.

Gibbs was describing a conversation that President Obama had earlier in the day with Jordanian King Abdullah II, following up on Obama’s meeting this week with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"They discussed efforts to advance Middle East peace and how the U.S. and Jordan could work together to achieve this goal," Gibbs said. "The president and the king agreed on the need to launch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as soon as possible."

Palestinian leaders have so far counted out resuming talks until Israel freezes settlement construction; the Israeli and U.S. governments are negotiating the contours of such a freeze.

Obama wants Egypt and Jordan, both at peace with Israel, to press other Arab states into making conciliatory gestures to Israel that would help facilitate a settlement freeze.

"The president underscored his strong support for Jordan’s efforts to work with other Arab states to reach out to Israel," Gibbs said.

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