Barack Obama

White House: "No decision" on new Mideast plan

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) - The White House promised on Friday not to “surprise anybody at any time” with a dramatic shift in Middle East peace strategy and said no decision had been made for President Barack Obama to offer his own solution to the conflict.

While dampening expectations for a revamped U.S. approach, national security adviser Jim Jones left open the possibility of further internal discussions, following reports that a broad new Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal was under consideration.

“These are ongoing discussions, and I think that while we’ve not taken any decision to jumpstart any dramatic shift in our strategy, I think we should say, to make clear, that we don’t intend to surprise anybody at any time,” Jones told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama flew back from Prague.

Speculation that Obama was weighing his own plan was fueled this week by several news reports, which come amid strains with Israel over its Jewish settlement expansion policy and U.S. frustration over a continuing deadlock in peace efforts.

The news leaks were widely interpreted as a possible trial balloon by the White House to increase pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had tense talks with Obama last month at the White House.

Jones described U.S.-Israeli ties as “fine,” despite Netanyahu’s decision to withdraw from a nuclear security summit in Washington next week, fearing Muslim delegates would demand Israel give up its assumed nuclear arsenal.

Former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Sandy Berger met with Jones in the White House last month after Netanyahu’s visit and recommended that the U.S. advance stalled peace talks by proposing its own plan.

Obama dropped in and listened to the proposal but did not tip his hand, the Washington Post and New York Times reported.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote that Obama was “seriously considering” presenting a broad peace plan and cited one official saying it could be launched by this fall.

Jones confirmed that the Middle East was a topic on the agenda of a recent White House meeting with several of his predecessors but insisted: “There’s been no decision on that.”

He said the administration’s focus was on getting Israel and the Palestinians to begin indirect, U.S. brokered talks.

Obama, who took office pledging to make Middle East peace a high priority, has gained little headway, acknowledging earlier this year that he underestimated the obstacles.

Asked whether a U.S. peace plan was under consideration, Jones said, “The idea of a U.S. plan has been talked about for years. It’s not something new. But there will be no surprise to any of the participants at all.”

Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jackie Frank