EU's Ashton to meet Abbas as Palestinians say talks over
(AMMAN) - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was holding talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Thursday, a day after the Palestinians declared they were ending all informal talks with Israel.
The meeting, which got under way in Amman late morning, according to the Palestinian office there, was expected to be a last-ditch attempt to persuade the Palestinians not to abandon a series of exploratory talks with Israel over the possibility of renewing direct talks.
Ashton and Jordan's King Abdullah II have been leading international efforts to shore up the fragile dialogue between the two sides ahead of the expiry of a Quartet deadline for the two sides to present proposals on borders and security.
Negotiators from the two sides met late on Wednesday in Amman for their fifth meeting in just over three weeks, after which the Palestinians ruled out any further talks.
"Today's meeting was the last and there will be no further exploratory talks with the Israeli side," a senior Palestinian official told AFP after those talks.
"All these meetings have gone nowhere because Israel has moved not one step to enable a resumption of negotiations," he said on condition of anonymity.
The exploratory talks had been intended to lead the parties back to direct talks in accordance with a timeline announced by the Quartet on October 26, which gave both sides three months to submit proposals on territory and security.
The deadline expires on Thursday.
The Palestinians say they have presented their proposals and accuse Israel of not reciprocating.
Following a meeting on Wednesday with Abdullah, Abbas appeared to soften his long-standing position on renewing direct talks with Israel -- saying talks were possible if the Jewish state would agree on a formula for borders.
"If we determine the borders, it is possible to return to negotiations, but the Israelis don't want to determine the borders," he said in comments published by the Palestinians' official WAFA news agency.
Until now, the Palestinians have said they will agree to return to the negotiating table only if Israel agrees to freeze settlement construction and if it accepts the lines that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War as the basis for discussions on future borders.
Israeli officials refused to discuss the content of Wednesday night's discussions, but Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Thursday urged Abbas not to put an end to the talks.
"Continuing the talks with the Palestinians is the only way to achieve a breakthrough. President Abbas must not put an end to these talks," he said in a posting on his official Twitter page.
The Israeli press gave little space to the Palestinian declaration that the talks were over with only the Haaretz newspaper carrying a small item on its front page, noting last-minute diplomatic efforts were under way to head off a complete collapse of the first face-to-face contact in more than 15 months.
Ashton met with Netanyahu on Wednesday night, with the premier insisting he was also looking for ways to ensure the channels of communication were kept open.
"We have been trying to make sure the talks between us and the Palestinians continue," he told reporters in brief remarks before sitting down with Ashton. "This is our design and I look forward to discussing it with you to make sure this is what happens."
Ashton described the Jordanian-sponsored talks as "important opportunities" and stressed she would push for them to continue.
"I am a passionate believer that we need to keep talks going and increase the potential of these talks to become genuine negotiations," she said earlier in the day.
Abbas said on Wednesday the Palestinians would now enter "a phase of evaluations and consultations with His Majesty King Abdullah II" at the end of which there would be talks with the Arab League Follow-up Committee, scheduled for February 4.
"There we will take the decision," he said.
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