Obama tells Palestine President to have direct talks with Israel

      US President Barack Obama has sent a letter to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urging him to agree to go into direct talks with the Israelis next month, and warned that if he doesn't, relations with the United States would be affected. The Arabic newspaper Al Hayat and Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv, however, said that the White House has declined to comment on reports of an Obama letter or confirm its existence. According to Politico, Ma'ariv sourced confirmation of the letter to the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saab Erekat, while Al Hayat cited in detail from what it said was a leaked draft of the letter. Among the letter's 16 points, the papers said, Obama pledged that if Abbas agreed to go into direct talks, there would be an extension of a partial Israeli West Bank settlement freeze currently due to expire in September. "It is time to go to direct negotiations with Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ready to move to direct negotiations in the wake of the meeting held with him," the letter states, according to Al Hayat. The letter warns that if Abbas refuses to enter direct talks next month, it will have implications on the relationship between the United States and the Palestinian Authority, and undermine trust in Abbas, the papers state. Points 15 and 16 concern Israeli obligations and future confidence-building steps, the paper states. The U.S. seemed reluctant Saturday to be seen as overbearing in its pressure on Abbas to accept direct talks or face an Obama administration less committed to the peace process. Meanwhile, in an interview with Israeli daily Haaretz Saturday night, chief Palestinian negotiator Erekat described the latest Palestinian peace proposal to Israel relayed via U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell as the most far-reaching to date. Erekat also denied to the paper reports that the Obama administration had threatened to penalize the Palestine Authority if Abbas did not agree to enter direct talks with Israel over a final-status agreement.

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