WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the Middle East peace process was in a “rut,” and prodded Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to help break an Arab-Israeli standoff that has frustrated the administration’s effort to restart talks.
“If all sides are willing to move off of the rut that we’re in currently, then I think there is an extraordinary opportunity to make real progress,” Obama said in a joint appearance with Mubarak at the White House. “But we’re not there yet.”
Obama’s comments came at the conclusion of Mubarak’s first visit to the White House in more than five years, a meeting that was conceived months ago as part of an ambitious diplomatic push but ended up underscoring the intractability of the issue.
The lack of progress was highlighted by an exchange in which Obama issued a thinly veiled challenge to his counterpart.
“Ultimately there’s going to have to be some courageous leadership, not only from the Palestinians and the Israelis but also from the other Arab states, to support this effort,” Obama said.
Since taking office, Obama has pushed both sides to make conciliatory gestures – urging Israel to halt the building of settlements in territories the Palestinians hope will be their future homeland, while leaning on Arab nations to take symbolic steps such as allowing Israeli planes to fly through their airspace.
Each side has essentially insisted that the other go first.
Egypt has emerged as the Obama administration’s most important ally in the Middle East.