Abbas considers options on peace talks restart

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West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is considering his options on resuming indirect peace talks with Israel after meeting U.S. and European diplomats this week, a senior aide said on Friday.

We have asked for an official meeting of Arab ministers of the follow-up committee and have told them that our consultations, coordinations and inquiries are still ongoing with the Americans, Europeans, Russians and the United Nations, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

Erekat dismissed an Israeli newspaper report on Friday that Abbas had told Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger at a meeting this week in Ramallah that U.S.-mediated peace talks could resume in the coming days.

The Haaretz report said Spindelegger told Israeli officials he had heard from Abbas of his readiness to resume talks.

The one who announces the Palestinian position is the Palestinian side, not Haaretz or the Austrian foreign minister, Erekat said.

An Israeli diplomatic source in Jerusalem said: There is no official word from the Americans or the Palestinians but there have been all kinds of messages from Western diplomats indicating that talks could restart.

There was no comment from Vienna.

Abbas has been seeking details from U.S. officials on how a proposal that Washington would host proximity talks involving Israeli and Palestinian envoys would work.

Aides say Abbas wants guarantees that any such talks would quickly move to seeking final agreements on the core issues of the conflict -- borders, settlements, right of return for Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem -- within specific terms of reference and a set timeline.
Abbas broke off negotiations with the previous Israeli government in December 2008 in protest at its offensive in the Gaza Strip and has refused to hold talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while Israel expands West Bank settlements.

In November, Netanyahu ordered a 10-month building freeze in some settlements on land Israel captured in 1967. The United States and Western powers want Abbas to drop his demand for a total freeze and get back to negotiations.

(Editing by Ori Lewis)

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