- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

ALGIERS, ALGERIA (AP) - The U.S. special envoy to the Middle East stressed the importance of a two-state solution to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians, after meeting Tuesday with Algeria’s president as part of a tour of Arab capitals.

George Mitchell said he and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika agreed on the “objective” of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement in the Mideast.

He said any deal must include “the so-called two-state solution, which we believe is the only way to achieve the desired result.”

“We regard it as in the national interest of the United States that there be a comprehensive peace settlement in the region, as well as in the interest of the people who live there,” Mitchell told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Bouteflika.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists he wants peace, but has refused to support the internationally-backed idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel since taking office March 31.

As the talks began, Bouteflika thanked Mitchell for stopping through North Africa on his way to the Middle East, calling it an “excellent idea to include North Africa in your consultations.”

Mitchell began his weeklong tour in Morocco, where he met with officials late Monday, and was due in Tunisia before heading to Israel and several Arab capitals.

He was the first foreign official to publicly meet with Bouteflika following the Algerian leader’s landslide re-election last week.

The U.S. administration was the only major foreign government to express concern about allegations of widespread fraud by Bouteflika’s opponents.

Mitchell did not directly address the matter Tuesday, but said he and Bouteflika “had candid and thorough discussions” about the Mideast and “many other issues that touch upon this region.”

Mitchell also voiced hope that the U.S. and Algeria would continue their “deep and strong” relationship in the future. A key oil and natural gas exporter, the North African nation is viewed as a strong U.S. ally in fighting terrorism.

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