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Israel's new foreign minister slams peace talks

JERUSALEM — Israel's new hard-line foreign minister delivered a scathing critique of Mideast peace efforts Wednesday, rejecting the past year of U.S.-led negotiations and telling a room crowded with cringing diplomats that concessions to the Palestinians only invite war.

Avigdor Lieberman's first speech since taking office, along with accusations by the moderate Palestinian president that the new Israeli government opposes peace, signaled tough times ahead for the Obama administration's regional diplomacy.

"Whoever thinks that concessions … will achieve something is wrong. He will bring pressures and more wars," Lieberman said. "What we have to explain to the world is that the list of priorities must change."

The appointment of Lieberman, head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu, has raised international concerns because of his hard-line positions on peace and an election campaign that was widely seen as racist.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took office Wednesday, has tried to portray a softer image this time around, saying he will seek a final peace agreement with the Palestinians. But he has not outlined how that deal might look and conspicuously refused to accept the Palestinian demand for an independent state on lands occupied by Israel. Officials in Netanyahu's office did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

U.S. officials did not comment directly on Lieberman's speech, but the White House emphasized the issue of Palestinian statehood.

"The president has said many times that we are committed to the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security," said Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking for the first time about the new Israeli government, urged the international community to put heavy pressure on Netanyahu.

In his speech, Lieberman harshly criticized the U.S.-led peace talks launched by former President George W. Bush in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2007, saying the agreement has no bearing. "Nobody ever authorized Annapolis," he said.

Lieberman spoke at a hand­over ceremony attended by his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, who was Israel's chief negotiator in the Annapolis talks. Livni grimaced throughout his speech, and at one time spoke up to disagree with him.

Israel's new foreign minister slams peace talks 04/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 11:19pm]
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