Palestinian U.N. bid spurs U.S. diplomatic push

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrives for a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

NEW YORK - The United States pressed ahead Monday with intensive talks aimed at averting a showdown over Palestinian statehood at the United Nations this week, asking key Muslim ally Turkey not to allow its rift with Israel to grow wider and hoping to coax cooperation from a noncommittal Russia.

As President Barack Obama and other world leaders headed to New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly session, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met her Turkish counterpart and was to see Russia's foreign minister later in the day.

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A senior U.S. official said Clinton had encouraged Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to repair badly strained ties with Israel and play a positive role in resolving the Palestinian issue that is looming large over the General Assembly that opens on Wednesday. A second senior U.S. official added that Washington was particularly concerned about frayed Turkey-Israel ties because the Palestinian confrontation has raised the stakes for further confrontation.

Officials said they would like the Turks, who support the Palestinian bid, to lower tensions with Israel by toning down what has been sharp rhetoric regarding the Jewish state in recent weeks. This, the officials said, could improve the atmosphere at the United Nations.

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The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Clinton's meetings were private.

Clinton seemed to be referring to a Turkish pledge to send warships to back up any future aid convoy attempting to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, but officials said that wasn't specifically discussed.

Israelis fear the statehood bid could further hamper their international standing, having lost a longtime ally in Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and its close partnership with Turkey, the only Muslim nation in NATO.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vowed not to back down despite "tremendous pressure" on the bid for U.N. recognition and membership in the world body.

Abbas insisted that the statehood goal should not derail a resumption of direct negotiations. The U.S. views the Palestinian plan as counterproductive and a potential roadblock to the peace effort. The U.S. has vowed to veto the measure in the U.N. Security Council.

The pressure from the United States and other quarters was matched by feverish efforts to offer the Palestinian leadership a viable plan forward, conscious that the current state of negotiations with the Jewish state is leading nowhere.

Envoys from the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers — the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia — were planning to meet for a second straight day in New York. Clinton was set to speak about the logjam with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and various other talks were occurring throughout the city.

The frenetic diplomacy was happening as Abbas arrived Monday in New York to take his case to the Security Council's 15 members, nine of whose support — and no vetoes — would be needed for passage.

President Barack Obama arrives Monday evening, without a clear plan to successfully persuade the Palestinians to drop their bid. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to arrive Wednesday, when the U.N. gathering formally opens.

Obama is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in New York, and a bipartisan group of senators is urging the U.S. leader to "send a strong message that the U.S. will forever remain committed to Israel's security."

In their joint letter to Obama, they wrote: "It appears that Turkey is shifting to a policy of confrontation, if not hostility, towards our allies in Israel and we urge you to mount a diplomatic offensive to reverse this course."

Turkey has suspended military ties with Israel, expelled top Israeli diplomats and threatened additional actions unless the Jewish state apologizes for last year's deadly raid on a Turkish aid flotilla. Israel has stopped short of an apology, only expressing its regret.

Turkey also has lobbied nations to support the Palestinian bid for recognition and U.N. membership.

Turkey's pursuit of an increasingly muscular foreign policy since the June re-election of its religiously rooted government has worried American officials, who've seen disagreements with Turkey also spread into economic issues.

The Palestinians are frustrated by their inability to win from Israel concessions such as a freeze on settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. And with bilateral talks with Israel failing, they see the U.N. route as the only viable route for progress in the short term.

To address the Palestinian concerns, Western officials have discussed the possibility of including some timeframes, however vague, in any statement put out by the Quartet, officials said. These would focus on the restart of Israeli-Palestinian talks and signs of tangible progress once negotiations begin.

"The Obama administration and Israel are intensifying a drive to avert the confrontation by putting peace talks back on," reports CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk. "What happens this week, before the formal presentation of a Palestinian application, is key and will determine if the negotiations are back on - or if there is increased violence in the Middle East."

The timeframes wouldn't be deadlines, as such, but are aimed at addressing the Palestinian desire to see quick action. The offer would come with an unchanged message that Washington would veto the Palestinian bid at the Security Council for U.N. recognition and membership, but at the very least it would represent a dignity-saving compromise for Abbas' U.S.-backed government.

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