Page last updated at 00:31 GMT, Sunday, 20 September 2009 01:31 UK

Obama to meet Middle East leaders

Building work  at Har Homa in east Jerusalem
The US wants Israeli settlement building to be frozen

President Barack Obama will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday to try to relaunch peace talks.

Mr Obama will hold separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, before a joint meeting.

Efforts to restart the peace process have so far been blocked by disagreements over Israeli settlements.

A senior US official told the BBC that there was no expectation of an announcement after Tuesday's meetings.

He said the meetings are "clear sign of the President's personal commitment to this issue."

But he added that it was critical to put the discussions "in context".

"Nine months ago there was a war in Gaza," he said. "The Israeli government has only existed for five months.

"And now these three leaders are going to sit down in the same room and continue to narrow the gaps."

Mr Netenyahu's office issued a statement welcoming the invitation to talks and saying they would be held "without preconditions", Reuters news agency reported.

'Deep commitment'

The announcement of the meetings, which will take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, came after US envoy George Mitchell's latest round of shuttle diplomacy ended without agreement.

The White House said the meetings next week would continue efforts by Mr Obama, Mr Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "to lay the groundwork for the relaunch of negotiations".

The road is now blocked
Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian president

Mr Mitchell said Mr Obama's desire to personally engage at this juncture showed his "deep commitment to comprehensive peace".

The US envoy held a series of meetings with Mr Netanyahu last week in a fresh attempt at getting a deal on Jewish settlement activity.

He also went to the West Bank to talk to Mr Abbas.

Mr Mitchell was hoping for a consensus before all sides attend the UN General Assembly, but he returned to the US without reaching any agreement.

Mr Abbas and the US administration have been demanding a complete freeze on Israeli construction activity.

Mr Netanyahu had previously offered a temporary freeze for several months, but not in East Jerusalem or in cases where homes have already been approved.

He noted this week that there had been a slowdown in settlement construction, but that work would continue on 2,400 units currently being built.

'New conditions'

On Saturday, both sides were reported as blaming each other for the lack of any agreement to resume the peace process following Mr Mitchell's visit.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yossi Levi said the Palestinian Authority was "preventing the resumption of the peace process by making conditions that it has not made in the past", AFP news agency said.

It was not reported which conditions he was referring to.

But Mr Abbas said Israel was to blame for not agreeing to a total freeze in settlement building.

"The road is now blocked," he told journalists in Cairo.

"There is no more work [for Mr Mitchell] with the Western or Palestinian sides because we are complying with all our duties.

"The focus has to be on the Israeli side."

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