2 Jun 2009

Obama determined to get peace talks back on track

11:10 pm on 2 June 2009

United States President Barack Obama has expressed guarded optimism that peace talks in the Middle East can resume.

Speaking on the eve of his first presidential visit to the region and Europe, Mr Obama told the BBC he will do everything he can to get serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians back on track.

Mr Obama's comments were made in his first interview with a British broadcaster.

On Iran, he said he hoped to see progress by the end of the year, through "tough, direct diplomacy". But he said rather than imposing its values on other countries the US should act as a role model.

Mr Obama said he believed the US was "going to be able to get serious negotiations back on track" between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Not only is it in the interest of the Palestinian people to have a state, it's in the interest of the Israeli people to stabilise the situation there," he said.

"And it's in the interest of the United States that we've got two states living side by side in peace and security."

Asked about Israel's rejection of his call for a halt to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Mr Obama urged patience, saying it was early in the conversation.

"Diplomacy is always a matter of a long hard slog. It's never a matter of quick results," he said.

However, Mr Obama said he had not needed convincing by Israel of the need to address Iran's programme of nuclear development.

"What I have said is that it is in the world's interests for Iran to set aside ambitions for a nuclear weapon," he said, and the best way for that to be accomplished was "through tough direct diplomacy".

"Although I don't want to put artificial time tables on that process, we do want to make sure that, by the end of this year, we've actually seen a serious process move forward".

Mr Obama is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in the first stage of his tour of the Middle East and Europe.

He will travel to Egypt on 4 June, where he is set to give a key speech on US ties with the region, before carrying on to Europe to attend D-Day commemoration events.