Mitchell Arrives in Israel

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JERUSALEM, Israel - U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel Wednesday evening, after spending Tuesday in Morocco.

Mitchell's third visit to the region is his first since the installation of the new government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Defense Minister Ehud Barack met with Mitchell shortly after his arrival to brief him on the security situation in the country.

On Thursday, Mitchell met first with President Shimon Peres, followed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Peres told the U.S. envoy that speculation about Israel planning to attack Iran is "nonsense."

Peres may have been responding to remarks earlier in the week by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Marine Corps University students at Quantico, Virginia.

Gates said an Israeli strike would "cement the Iranian determination to have a nuclear program," the LA Times reported.

In Mitchell's second meeting, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) told him that Israel must find new ways to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians because previous approaches didn't "lead to good places, to say the least."

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Mitchell repeated the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, while Lieberman called the meeting "a great opportunity to exchange some ideas."

"We spoke about really close cooperation, and we are looking forward to the next meeting and to some really deep dialogue," the foreign minister said.

Earlier in the day, two other ministers spoke out against the two-state solution.

"The preferable course of diplomatic action at this time is two economies for two peoples," Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) told Army Radio.

"The American emissary also knows that forcing the region into virtual diplomatic discourse will only breed the opposite results," Yishai said.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) echoed previous remarks by Lieberman, namely that the U.S.-sponsored Annapolis Conference, which took place in November 2007, is no longer relevant.

"The Annapolis outline has failed and is no longer binding," Katz told Israel Radio.

In addition to meeting with Netanyahu, Mitchell will also meet with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Kadima party chairwoman and opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Thursday afternoon.

On Friday, the U.S. envoy travels to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad before departing for talks in Cairo and the Gulf States.

Mitchell's meetings coincide with visits by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Mideast envoy Alexander Saltanov, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos and U.S. Congresswoman Nita Lowey, head of the House Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee.

Mitchell's plans for shuttle diplomacy include setting up an office in Jerusalem and monthly trips to the region to be the eyes and ears of the Obama administration.

Sources: Haaretz, YNet news

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