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U.S. looking past U.N. to form future pathway for Mideast negotiations

Top Obama administration officials here in New York are working hard with Quartet members, including Russia, to come up with language for a new statement on the Middle East Peace Process, one that would be viable no matter what happens with the Palestinian drive to seek member-state status at the U.N. this week. Secretary of ...

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Top Obama administration officials here in New York are working hard with Quartet members, including Russia, to come up with language for a new statement on the Middle East Peace Process, one that would be viable no matter what happens with the Palestinian drive to seek member-state status at the U.N. this week.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday evening on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and the Palestinian U.N. gambit was a major part of their conversation. Following the meeting, State Department officials said that Clinton was focused on the longer-term diplomatic picture.

"Both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Clinton agreed that the Quartet envoys should continue working to find a way forward among the Quartet in the form of a statement that can help establish a pathway back to negotiations over time," a senior State Department official told reporters in a read out of the meeting.

Top Obama administration officials here in New York are working hard with Quartet members, including Russia, to come up with language for a new statement on the Middle East Peace Process, one that would be viable no matter what happens with the Palestinian drive to seek member-state status at the U.N. this week.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday evening on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and the Palestinian U.N. gambit was a major part of their conversation. Following the meeting, State Department officials said that Clinton was focused on the longer-term diplomatic picture.

"Both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Clinton agreed that the Quartet envoys should continue working to find a way forward among the Quartet in the form of a statement that can help establish a pathway back to negotiations over time," a senior State Department official told reporters in a read out of the meeting.

But when pressed, the official could not note any progress or agreement between the U.S. and Russia on the contents of the statement. The official said, however, that the meeting was only the first of what will be several U.S.-Russian interactions on this issue this week.

"They talked about what the purpose or nature of a Quartet statement and product would look like and the desire by both of them to have the Quartet play a constructive role in producing a pathway that could lead back towards negotiations," the official said. "And they also talked about what some of the elements might look like in a statement that could provide a useful framework or context for negotiations between the two sides. And then they agreed that the envoys should continue working."

The Cable reported last week that among the issues under consideration within the discussions over a Quartet statement were two specific items: modified language to acknowledge the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and a U.S.-proposed timeline for resuming direct negotiations within four to six weeks.

But Clinton and Lavrov didn’t get to that level of details on Monday evening. "Their conversation tonight was at more of a strategic level than at a level of text," the official said, adding that Clinton affirmed the U.S. position opposing the Palestinians move at the U.N., a move the Russian government is publicly supporting.

The official’s briefing seemed to signal that the Obama administration has somewhat resigned itself to the fact that the Palestinians plan to move forward at the U.N. this week and that the administration is now looking over the horizon to minimize the damage to the peace process and focus on what happens after all parties leave New York.

"And so the question is: How do you deal with all the elements that are at play in the discussions here in New York in a way that can produce a pathway when people leave New York back to negotiations and then have those negotiations ultimately yield the two-state solution that everybody wants," the official said.

The reporters at the briefing repeatedly noted the administration change of emphasis away from criticizing the Palestinian U.N. activity and toward a diplomatic path that would begin after the General Assembly ends.

The official acknowledged that in Clinton’s meeting with Lavrov, she didn’t spend a lot of time trying to convince the Russians not to support the Palestinian statehood bid.

"I think she laid out her position on why she believes that action at the United Nations is not the best way forward, and she spent the bulk of her time encouraging the foreign minister to work with her on finding a way forward that would get the two parties back into negotiations."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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