Abbas willing to find way out of deadlock, says ashton

Hours after Palestinians declared that talks with Israel were "over," the European Union's foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton has insisted that the peace process is not at an impasse.

The Palestinians broke off a round of low-level exploratory meetings with their Israeli counterparts in Amman yesterday, declaring that Israel had "moved not one step" closer towards reviving top-level peace talks that foundered 18 months ago over settlements.

Lady Ashton, who met the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, said she believed that he was willing to find a way out of the deadlock, despite threats to abandon negotiations if Israel failed to meet last night's deadline set by the Quartet of peacemakers to submit proposals on borders and security.

"I do not think there is an impasse. I know that President Abbas is thinking carefully about how to move forward," she said.

The Palestinian leader is to consult with the Arab League on 4 February on his next moves, potentially leaving the door open to further discussions. The Palestinians are facing intense pressure not to give up on negotiations after a new round of talks began earlier this month. Both sides went into the discussions with little expectation of a breakthrough.

Lady Ashton, who met the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, said that the Quartet deadline was not "written in stone," but intended to create momentum. The Palestinians insist that Israel halts settlement expansion in occupied territory and accept pre-1967 borders as a basis for the talks to resume. The Israelis accuse the Palestinians of trying to shift blame for the deadlock.

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