Washington: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to resume stalled direct peace negotiations in Washington early next month.
She made the announcement at the State Department on Friday with special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell at her side.
The breakthrough marks a small but important step toward easing tensions in the Middle East.
Clinton said the talks are to begin Sept. 2, hosted by President Barack Obama. She said the hope is that a comprehensive peace agreement can be reached within one year. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan also have been invited to attend the first session.
Clinton and US special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell were to announce the breakthrough at a news conference, officials said, followed by a statement of support from the "Quartet" of Middle East peacemakers and acceptances from Israel and the Palestinians.
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement said the two sides would gather in Washington at President Barack Obama`s request on Sept. 2 with the goal of reaching a settlement in a year`s time. Subsequent rounds of talks could be held elsewhere, they said.
Timing is important because of the Sept. 26 expiration of a temporary 10-month freeze on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. Also taken into account: religious holidays and the upcoming annual session of the UN General Assembly in the third week of September.
The Obama administration has been pushing for a speedy resumption of the face-to-face negotiations that broke down in December 2008. Mitchell has been shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for months in a bid to get them to agree.
The Palestinians had been balking at direct talks until the Quartet — the US, UN, European Union and Russia, reaffirmed a March statement calling for a peace deal based on borders in place before the 1967 Mideast war.
But Israel had rejected that, saying it amounted to placing conditions on the negotiations. Israel had been demanding a separate invitation from the US.
After weeks of wrangling, officials said a compromise had been reached. Under the deal the Quartet would call for talks that "lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors."
A copy of the statement obtained by The Associated Press says the Quartet believes the talks "can be completed within one year."
It also calls on "both sides to observe calm and restraint and to refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric" while the talks are under way. The statement says senior officials from the quartet would meet with colleagues from the Arab League on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly "to review the situation."