Netanyahu says patience needed in launching new direct talks with Palstinians

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Israeli prime minister said Monday that patience was needed in restarting direct negotiations with the Palestinians, but that launching the talks would not take years or even months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was speaking during a visit to Greece, which for years has sought an active role in Middle East negotiations. Netanyahu showed no sign, however, of backing down from his insistence that there be no preconditions, such as a timeline or agenda, before direct talks can begin — a demand of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — aimed ultimately at establishing a permanent status for the Palestinians — broke down in December 2008. Since then, the international Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia — has been seeking ways to reconcile the two sides' demands for restarting the talks.

"For the past year and a half I've been trying to have direct meetings without a predetermined agenda with the Palestinian Authority," Netanyahu said during a joint news conference with Papandreou in Athens.

"We have to have patience," he said in Hebrew, with the comments translated into Greek. "Of course we won't need to wait for many months or many years. I believe that with some patience you will see results."

Asked whether Cairo or Washington would be a good venue, Netanyahu indicated the talks could be held anywhere.

"We can go to Cairo, we can go to Washington, we can go to any place we can in order to give flesh and bones to this initiative," he said. "I hope everything will have a positive development."

At U.N. headquarters in New York, deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the Quartet members have been in contact with each other on a possible statement.

"It's possible that there could be something this week," he said. "That would depend on agreement among the Quartet partners."

Netanyahu was in Athens on a two-day visit — the first by an Israeli prime minister to Greece — and planned Tuesday to visit a nearby island with Papandreou. The two leaders on Monday discussed tourism, military issues, renewable energy and water resources.

On Sunday, Papandreou spoke by phone with Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League. A Greek government official said on condition of anonymity that Papandreou wanted to hear the Arab leaders' opinions on the Middle East peace process, including the push for a resumption of direct talks. Papandreou had lobbied for a role in Mideast negotiations during his previous tenure as foreign minister nearly a decade ago.

The Israeli prime minister said there was a coalition of countries seeking peace.

"It's a much broader coalition than meets the eye ... it includes Arab countries and Israel, many more Arab countries than people normally understand, it includes Greece and other well-meaning countries in the region," he told reporters.

"We hope that it will facilitate the progress in the direct talks, which I hope to resume with the Palestinians without preconditions, but to move, definitely to move. And I think this is the desire of all those who want stability and peace and security in the Middle East, and I add also prosperity."

The visit comes as relations between Israel and Turkey, Greece's traditional rival, have soured since an Israeli commando raid in May on an international flotilla trying to bust Israel's blockade of Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the raid on the flotilla, in which Greek activists were also participating.

But both Netanyahu and Papandreou insisted that improving Greek-Israeli ties had nothing to do with Israel's deteriorating relations with Turkey.

Security was tight for Netanyahu's trip, with increased patrols in the city center and all cars and pedestrians kept well away from any areas he was visiting, including the Jewish Museum and the Acropolis.

A few hundred mainly left-wing and pro-Palestinian activists held a peaceful demonstration to protest Netanyahu's visit, marching to the Israeli Embassy which was surrounded by riot police.

Stopping briefly outside Netanyahu's hotel, they displayed banners reading "Zionist murderer get out," and "Sever all ties with Israel."

About 200 people took part in a separate peaceful protest in central Athens.


Associated Press writers Aisha Mohammed in Jerusalem, Nicholas Paphitis in Athens and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.