Obama Set to Resume Middle East Peace Talks

Saying now is not the time for timidity, a top Obama Administration official predicts the president will embark on a diplomatic course that will "once and for all" achieve Middle East peace.

"We expect to address core issues and see if we can't find a formula to reach an agreement that ends this conflict, once and for all," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday.

Obama will host separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday at the White House,

The next day, the Middle Eastern leaders will sit down with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for direct talks - an early step in a goal, agreed to by all sides, of reaching a peace deal between Israel and Palestine within one year.

The meetings come amidst controversial comments made over the weekend by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former chief rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of a party in Netanyahu's coalition who, in a sermon in Israel, reportedly said that Abbas and Palenstinians should "perish from the world."

"God should strike them with a plague," Yosef said, angering leaders on all sides of the negotiations.

"We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said Sunday in a statement. "These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace." Crowley also noted that Yosef's remarks do not reflect the views of the Prime Minister.

The resumption of direct talks between Israel and Palestine on a peace process could be considered a victory in itself - but Clinton cautioned that there was still a long way to go. "There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead," she said earlier this month. "We will hit more obstacles."

Crowley echoed those sentiments Monday. "While the parameters of the ultimate agreement are well-known," he said, "we do not expect to achieve peace in one meeting."