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Trump at UN Talks Up, but Does Not Press, Mideast Peace – New York Times

That makes the festering squabble in the Gulf a more urgent headache for him than the decades-old enmity between Israelis and Palestinians. Ten days ago, Mr. Trump’s effort to settle the dispute, a three-way phone call with the leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, ended in failure.

He is meeting later this week with the Qatari emir, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, as well as with the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is also a party to the dispute. Administration officials said Mr. Trump was likely to keep trying to close the rift.

“Middle East peace is desirable because it’s the mother of all diplomatic deals,” said Robert M. Danin, a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But the conflict that’s taking place in the Gulf is harming U.S. interests in a more immediate sense.”

The allure of a history-making peace accord is still strong, as Mr. Trump’s remarks with Mr. Netanyahu illustrated. While the Israeli leader kept his focus on “the terrible nuclear deal with Iran,” Mr. Trump spoke expansively about a peace agreement as though it was a genuine possibility, somewhat to the Israelis’ surprise.

“It will be a fantastic achievement,” the president said. “We are giving it an absolute go. I think there’s a good chance that it could happen. Most people would say there’s no chance whatsoever.”

But Mr. Trump’s enthusiasm bore little resemblance to the actual diplomacy underway here. American officials have gone out of their way to lower expectations for the General Assembly. They do not plan to push either the Israelis or the Palestinians to meet or to present any new ideas for breaking the deadlock between them. Nor will Mr. Trump bring Mr. Netanyahu together with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, for a three-way meeting, as Mr. Obama did in September 2009.

“This is very early stages,” said Brian H. Hook, senior policy adviser to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. “We shouldn’t expect major breakthroughs or detailed proposals quite yet.”

Mr. Hook said Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu devoted an “equitable” amount of time to the peace process, but much of their conversation had to do with the nuclear deal and how to counter Iran’s aggressions in Syria and elsewhere.

In recent days, the United States and Iran have waged a war of words over the nuclear deal, accusing each other of violating it in spirit, if not in practice. Mr. Netanyahu fiercely opposed the agreement and is still stoking opposition to it.

The contrast to Mr. Obama’s first General Assembly was vivid. He used the meeting to deliver a kick to a process that he felt was lagging after his first eight months in office. After meeting with each leader individually, Mr. Obama presided over a reluctant joint handshake between them.

“We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then falling back,” an impatient Mr. Obama declared. “Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency.”

To underscore his point, Mr. Obama singled out his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and special envoy, George J. Mitchell, and said he was directing them to build on the momentum achieved at the United Nations. Ultimately, Mr. Obama’s effort ended in failure.

Mr. Trump named his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and one of his lawyers, Jason D. Greenblatt, to lead the peace negotiations, which many saw as a symbol of his commitment to the process. But he did not mention either of them on Monday in his remarks with Mr. Netanyahu.

The two men, joined by another senior official, Dina H. Powell, last traveled to the region in late August, visiting several Arab countries before arriving in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There was no tangible progress toward talks, and by all accounts, their biggest achievement was simply keeping the Palestinians from abandoning the process.

If anything, the conditions for a peace agreement have deteriorated since Mr. Trump took office. Mr. Netanyahu is under investigation for corruption and, facing a possible indictment, he is highly unlikely to alienate his right-wing coalition by taking a risk on a peace agreement. Mr. Abbas, 82 and nearing the end of his career, appears more preoccupied with feuding inside his Fatah Party than with striking a deal with Mr. Netanyahu.

There was a glimmer of hope in news Monday that Fatah, which administers the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that runs Gaza, were moving ahead with a plan for a Palestinian unity government under the leadership of Fatah. But such agreements have been proclaimed before, only to fall apart after the two sides could not agree on a transfer of power.

Some administration officials said that using the United Nations calendar to try to force negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians could backfire because the talks would inevitably fail, which would feed cynicism about the broader process.

Mr. Trump also faces an uphill battle reconciling Qatar and its neighbors. The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is not coming to the United Nations, depriving Mr. Trump of the chance to put him and the Qatari emir in the same room. But analysts said he had more leverage over the Gulf leaders than he does over the Israelis or Palestinians.

“The Saudis want us to stay in the region and counter the Iranian expansion and use of Shia militias,” said Dennis B. Ross, who has worked on Middle East issues for several presidents. “So if we can show we have moved the Qataris, they won’t say no to what we produce.”

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Trump at UN Talks Up, but Does Not Press, Mideast Peace – New York Times}

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