Inside the room for Obama's Middle East peace talks

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Here is my pool report from President Obama’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

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Trilat with Abbas and Netanyahu
New York
9/22/09

The three leaders were delayed more than 30 minutes in beginning their trilateral - either the one on one with Abbas or with Netanyahu, or both, went long.

A few minutes after high noon, US, Israeli and Palestinian press were brought into a high-ceilinged, ornately decorated room called the Basildon Room, deep within the bowels of the Waldorf-Astoria. There were conference tables set up in a half square with Potus in the very middle, Netanyahu’s place on his right, and Abbas’ on his left.

To Abbas’ left, namecards read Mr. Abdrabou, Mr. Erekat, Foreign Minister Al Maliki, and Secretary Clinton. To the right of Netanyahu the cards read Defense Minister Barak, Foreign Minister Lieberman, General Jones and Senator Mitchell. The names were written in what looked like gold-embossed lettering on white paper in wooden placeholders with gold trim. Each seat had a glass of water - Potus’ glass was the only one with a white cover on top.

There was a large chandelier about 10 feet off the floor over the open space of the half-square. A podium in back of the half-square had the presidential seal on it. Behind that, a US flag, an Israeli flag, a US flag and a Palestinian flag. The room had a brownish tint to its color scheme, with illustrations and designs on the walls and circular paintings on the ceiling showing what looked like religious themes.

At 12:23 Barak and Lieberman and a special adviser to Netanyahu whose name I didn’t get entered the room but then stood there akwardly by themselves, staring at the press corps, which lobbed a few generalist questions at them which were responded to with equally general nonanswers that I couldn’t quite hear.

A few minutes later the three leaders and the other officials entered the room. Potus walked to the podium while the rest went to their seats.

A few selected highlights from Potus’ remarks, of which you should have a transcript shortly:

He said they had “frank and productive” meeting and repeated a call for a two state solution, which he said Clinton and Mitchell have “worked tirelessly” toward.

“We have made progress since I took office … But we still have much longer to go.”

He noted progress on both sides but also pointed out areas where both sides need to do better. In particular he said that on settlements, the Israelis “need to translate these discussions into real action.”

“It is past time to talk about starting negotiations. It is time to move forward” he said.

He said permanent status talks must “begin soon” and called for a “sense of urgency.”

“Despite all the obstacles, all the history, all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward.”

Hillary took notes under the table. Others took notes on the table.

Mitchell will meet with negotiators next week. Potus said he asked Hillary to report on status of negotiations in mid October.

Potus came around the podium to shake hands with Netanyahu and then Abbas, and then the two of them shook hands as photogs snapped the all important peacemaking image.

Then Potus said “Were kicking you out now.” However, it took a few minutes for the camera crews to get the message that they were supposed to stop filming and then break down their stuff, leading Potus to try to prod things along.

“All right guys let’s go,” he said.

As all that was happening, Potus joked for a moment with Netanyahu and then turned to Abbas for small talk. But Abbas quickly began imploring Potus on something (I was too far away to hear) and pumped his fist emphatically. Potus nodded a few times but in a short clipped manner.

We were out around 12:39 or so.

 

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

Follow me on Twitter // jward@washingtontimes.com // Read my latest articles here // My YouTube channel

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