NEW YORK, Sept 22 U.S. special envoy George Mitchell suggested on Tuesday that an Israeli settlement freeze is not essential for peace talks with Palestinians to resume.
Speaking to reporters after U.S. President Barack Obama met Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Mitchell said the United States had never presented "preconditions" and did not want the parties to do so either.
The White House had hoped to orchestrate a series of steps by Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states that would have allowed Obama to announce this week the relaunch of peace talks, which have been on hold since December.
Among these steps was a U.S. request that Israel live up to its commitment under a 2003 U.S.-backed peace plan to halt all building of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, which it has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war.
The United States also wanted the Palestinians to do more to prevent violence against Israelis and Arab nations to take steps toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state.
Asked if it was possible for talks to resume without a settlement freeze, Mitchell told reporters: "We are not identifying any issue as being a precondition or an impediment to negotiation.
"Neither the president nor the Secretary (of State Hillary Clinton) nor I have ever said of any one issue ... that it is a precondition to negotiations," he added.
Mitchell said the suggestions the United States had put forward would allow talks to resume under the best possible conditions with the best chance of success.
"But we do not believe in preconditions. We do not impose them and we urge others not to impose preconditions," he said.
Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have argued that Israel must freeze settlement building before peace talks can resume. (Editing by Alan Elsner)