Mitchell in Israel: ‘Discussions among friends’


JERUSALEM (JTA) — George Mitchell called differences between Israel and the U.S. "discussions among friends" and "not disputes among adversaries."

Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, met Sunday evening in Tel Aviv with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Olmert as part of a series of meetings scheduled this week in the region.

"The American commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable and will not change," Mitchell reportedly told Barak.

Barak told Mitchell that Israel is "willing to do all it takes to help" achieve peace in the region "while maintaining our vital interests. We understand the partners’ needs and we undoubtedly could use Mitchell’s experience and wisdom in order to try and achieve this."

Mitchell met Sunday morning in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad, where he called on Syria to help bring about peace in the Middle East.

If we are to succeed, we will need Arabs and Israelis alike to work with us to bring about comprehensive peace," Mitchell told reporters following his meeting with Assad, Ha’aretz reported. "We will welcome the full cooperation of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic in this historic endeavor."

Mitchell said that restarting talks between Israel and Syria in the near future is one of the Obama administration’s goals. Turkey has said it is ready to resume mediation of those talks.

Syria continues to be under U.S. sanctions over its support for Hamas, but the United States under President Obama recently sent an ambassador to the country for the first time in more than four years.

Mitchell is scheduled to meet Monday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the following day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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