Page last updated at 19:50 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 20:50 UK

Obama invites Middle East heads

Mr Obama said it was necessary to 'step back from the abyss'

US officials say the leaders of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians have been invited for talks in Washington in a new push for Middle East peace.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu, President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have been asked to the White House for talks likely by early June.

The peace process has been beset by conflict and adversity which President Barack Obama has pledged to address.

There is no indication the Arab and Israeli leaders will meet directly.

Mr Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said the visits were likely to take place before the president's scheduled trip to France on 6 June.

"With each of them the president will discuss ways the United States can strengthen and deepen our partnerships with them, as well as the steps all parties must take to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and the Arab states," Mr Gibbs told a news conference.

What we want to do is to step back from the abyss
President Barack Obama

He said the invitations had been extended after Mr Obama met Jordan's King Abdullah II at the White House on Tuesday.

Mr Obama has "invited other key partners in the effort to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East to the White House in the coming weeks".

He added: "We are actively working to finalise dates for the visits."

Mr Obama's envoy George Mitchell has made several trips to the region, meeting Israel's recently installed prime minister, who Arab critics have characterised as an opponent of a negotiated peace settlement.

Speaking to reporters after talks with King Abdullah II, Mr Obama said there was "profound cynicism" surrounding the peace process.

"Unfortunately, right now what we've seen not just in Israel, but within the Palestinian territories, among the Arab states, worldwide, is a profound cynicism about the possibility of any progress being made whatsoever.

"What we want to do is to step back from the abyss, to say, as hard as it is, as difficult as it may be, the prospect of peace still exists, but it's going to require some hard choices."

He added that he hoped "gestures of good faith" would be made "on all sides" in the coming months, although he did not specify what those gestures would be.

The US supports a two-state solution, with Israel existing peacefully alongside a Palestinian state.

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