NEW YORK – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spent nearly a half-hour Friday meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the Obama administration tried to prevent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from collapsing.
The Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the talks if Israel does not extend a slowdown in West Bank settlement activity that expires on Sunday.
After Clinton's 25-minute meeting with Abbas, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that the U.S. efforts to keep the talks alive were continuing.
In a furious, last-minute round of diplomacy, the Obama administration is pressing Israel to extend the settlement slowdown, while urging Abbas not to make good on his threat to leave the negotiations.
The Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the talks if Israel does not extend a slowdown in West Bank settlement activity that expires on Sunday, opening the way for an Israeli resumption of contested settlement construction.
"It is a pretty intense set of negotiations going on right now with the Israelis and the Palestinians," said Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. "We know that time is short. This is an important issue."
Feltman told reporters the U.S. is urging Israel to extend the moratorium and that both parties need to see the negotiations through to their conclusion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he does not intend to extend the slowdown, but some Israeli officials have hinted that a compromise could be reached.
Clinton met earlier in the week with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and U.S. special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell has been shuttling between the two sides in a bid to craft some sort of a compromise.
Earlier Friday, Palestinian officials said they were waiting for the latest American effort to break the standoff with Israel over the settlements.
With Sunday's deadline looming, President Barack Obama has increasingly placed efforts to resolve the conflict at the center of his foreign policy. On Thursday, Obama made an impassioned appeal at the United Nations to support a solution and called on Israel to extend the slowdown.