US peace envoy George Mitchell has continued his whistle-stop tour of the Middle East with a visit to Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Mitchell made no mention of the contentious issue of settlements but did say that all those involved must make efforts in the drive for peace. “Everyone must take steps, some of them difficult, some of them controversial, to create the context within which such discussions can occur,” he said.
The Israeli government has rejected Washington’s calls for a freeze on settlement construction – and this stance was reflected by a march through Jerusalem condemning US policy. Earlier in the day, Mitchell saw Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. After this meeting, he called on Arab states to take steps to normalise relations with Israel. Also in the region, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates urged Tehran to respond to US overtures about its nuclear programme in time for the UN General Assembly in September. “Our hope remains that Iran will respond to the president’s outstretched hands in a positive and constructive way, but we will see,” Gates said. Washington has warned Iran that it will not put up with endless discussions and wants to see progress by the end of the year.