President Obama, appearing in Dresden at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel this morning, was asked what his concrete steps are to bring about an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement. In response, Obama highlighted that his administration is doing more than the previous one--which was criticized for getting involved in Middle East peace late in the game--sooner in its tenure. From the White House transcript of the exchange:
I think that what is different now is, number one, you're seeing a U.S. administration and American President engage this issue almost on the day that I took office. We've only been in office five months, and yet we've seen extraordinary activity already on this issue. And that's sent a signal to all the parties in the Middle East that we are serious. I've assigned George Mitchell, my special envoy, who has met repeatedly with all the players in the region and who is going to be going back next week in the wake of my appearance in Cairo to follow up with each of the individual parties on a whole host of negotiation points and potential confidence-building measures that can be taken.
And I've already met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Our governments are in close contact and communication about how we can move forward on some of the items that might be inhibiting restarting talks. I've had Abbas in the White House to do the same.
And so you've probably seen more sustained activity on this issue in the first five months than you would have seen in most previous administrations. The reason we are doing that is because not only had talks ground to a halt, but there was a sense that all sides were getting so dug in and so cynical that you might reach a point where you could never get the parties back at the table. And I think given what we've done so far, we've at least created the space, the atmosphere, in which talks can restart.