Two high-level U.S. officials are in the Middle East on separate trips
as part of a new U.S. diplomatic push to end the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Speaking in Jordan after talks with King Abdullah, U.S. Defense
Secretary Robert Gates Monday warned Iran that the U.S. will push for
tough sanctions if Tehran does not respond to Washington's offers to
discuss Iran's nuclear program.
Earlier in the day, Gates was in Jerusalem, where he discussed Iran's nuclear ambitions with Israel's defense minister.
Ehud Barak said Israel is taking no options off the table regarding
Iran's nuclear program, but he said the priority now is diplomacy.
U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell also is in the region, and he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres Monday.
Mitchell then traveled to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Mr. Abbas's chief peace
negotiator, Saeb Erekat.
U.S. calls for Israel to freeze settlement construction likely were discussed with both leaders.
Earlier Monday, Mitchell met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in
Cairo. Mitchell said he has asked Arab leaders in the region to take
genuine steps toward normalizing ties with Israel.
The envoy held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus
Sunday. The U.S. envoy said Washington is not asking any Arab state to
achieve full normalization with Israel at this time because such a step
could come later in the process.
Mitchell will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones is leading a delegation to
Israel and the West Bank that is scheduled to arrive Tuesday.
A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry responded
to U.S. comments about Tehran's nuclear program at a news conference
Monday. He said nuclear weapons do not fit into Iran's defense plans,
and he added that the Middle East region would be stable and secure if
the U.S. pressed Israel to disarm.