The Obama administration said Monday it was "disappointed" by Israel's refusal to extend a slowdown in settlement construction and dispatched special Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell to the region in an urgent bid to salvage the stalled negotiations.
"We are disappointed but we remain focused on our long-term objective and will be talking to the parties about the implications of the Israeli decision," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, adding that Mitchell would "sort through with the parties where we go from here."
The comments came after Israel defied U.S. and international demands to extend a 10-month slowdown on settlement construction in the West Bank, raising the prospect of the Palestinians abandoning the negotiations in protest. The slowdown expired on Sunday and the Palestinians had been threatening to walk out of talks if it was not extended.
Crowley said the U.S. position in support of extending the slowdown on settlements remained unchanged and praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for not immediately walking out of the talks.
"In our discussions with both sides over the weekend, we encouraged restraint whatever decision was made on the Israeli side and the Palestinian response so far reflects that restraint," Crowley said. "We had called upon both sides to be constructive in the actions that they take from this point forward and certainly the restraint at this point is appreciated."
Mitchell departs Monday evening and will hold meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials beginning on Tuesday. The specific schedule is still being worked out, Crowley said.
Crowley said the U.S. is still focused on promoting negotiations on a "two-state solution" in which an independent Palestinian state exists beside a secure Israel. Crowley encouraged "constructive actions" toward reaching that goal.
"We believe if we can successfully get by this turbulence that we are experiencing now, there is absolutely an opportunity for a successful negotiation," he said.
This program aired on September 27, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.