The United States on Tuesday said it had cancelled an already delayed trip to the Middle East by special peace envoy Dennis Ross, conceding that there was not enough time left in President Bill Clinton's term to forge a peace deal, according to AFP.
"It's not likely that Dennis Ross will travel to the region this week, there's not enough time left for such a trip to take place," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
"Dennis is not going to make the trip that we had thought he might make," Boucher told reporters, referring to the visit originally scheduled for last week.
The visit had already been indefinitely postponed, pending the results of Israeli-Palestinian security talks aimed at ending months of violence, said the agency.
Clinton had asked Ross to meet with both sides in a last-ditch bid to secure a deal before the US president leaves office on January 20. But as violence flared anew and talks remained mired in recriminations, Clinton ordered the trip postponed.
"We don't feel the security and policy talks have produced enough of a result to warrant a visit," a senior State Department official said.
Because Ross is to step down from his post as Special Middle East Coordinator, and take a position at a Washington think-tank next month, the now-cancelled trip would probably have been his last official one to the region.
Boucher insisted that even though there were only four days left until Clinton leaves office, Washington had not thrown in the towel, AFP added.
"We are in close touch with the parties," he said. "We are not giving up on supporting their efforts to reach an agreement."
But, he allowed that the time had past for the Clinton administration to push the two sides together
"All along, we've said they need to take the necessary decisions to achieve peace, we'll continue to support their efforts, but they have to take the steps required to reach peace," Boucher said.
In the region, Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators met earlier Tuesday and promised to meet again, Haaretz reported, adding that both sides, however, reported gaps between them were large.
"We had serious discussions, which were very in-depth, but I cannot say there was any progress," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.
"The gaps remain as they were on the issues," Erakat said, adding that the Palestinians raised the issue of "settlers' violence and terrorism, with an official protest."
He referred to a rampage by Jewish settlers in the southern Gaza Strip beach community of al-Mawassi, in retaliation for the murder of a settler the day before.
The killing of the settler prompted the Israeli side to call off the political talks on Monday and re-impose tight controls on the Gaza Strip.
Before the meeting finally took place, an Israeli official said there was "no expectation for an agreement or declaration of principles.
The main focus is reducing violence and renewing effective cooperation in the field of security."
Clinton has proposed compromises under which Israel would give the Palestinians sovereignty over the Gaza Strip, most of the West Bank and some of Jerusalem, in return for renouncing refugees' right to return.
In the meantime, Haaretz reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with his cabinet ministers to discuss the latest developments in talks with the Palestinians.
Barak, according to the paper, believed that there is virtually no chance of forging an agreement with the Palestinians prior to the prime ministerial elections on February 6. He also decided that Israel should seek a comprehensive peace accord, rather than limiting its aspirations to a pared down, partial agreements.
Quoting sources at Barak's office, Haaretz said that the prime minister has rejected a proposal from regional cooperation minister Shimon Peres suggesting that Israel and the PA would draft a document outlining points of agreement, and contention, between them.
The prime minister, however, supports Peres' continued contacts with the Palestinians.
Barak, added Haaretz, accepted foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami's argument that there is no reason to halt talks with the Palestinians when Clinton's term in office ends on January 20.
Since the current peace process dialogue does not rely on American mediation, and features direct Israeli-Palestinian discussions, Ben-Ami was quoted as saying, Clinton's departure isn't a reason to curtail the talks -- Albawaba.com
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