Reporting from Washington and Vineyard Haven, — World leaders are planning to invite Israeli and Palestinian officials to Washington in September to begin direct Middle East peace talks, a U.S. official confirmed Thursday.
An invitation from the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations is expected to be announced as soon as Friday, nearly two years after the last round of talks broke off.
The world leaders are suggesting early September for the first session of negotiations.
Details were still being worked out late Thursday, and though acceptance by both sides was expected, officials warned that nothing had been confirmed.
U.S. and allied officials in recent days said they had persuaded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to join the talks. President Obama would be directly involved in the meetings, officials said.
The U.S. has spent months on shuttle diplomacy — special envoy George J. Mitchell has been meeting extensively with Israeli and Palestinian officials since May — in an attempt to start indirect talks, with little discernible result.
Key negotiators signaled a breakthrough in the effort to begin negotiations this week, when Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top foreign policy official, announced in a letter to other EU officials that Abbas was on the brink of committing to talks.
Confirmation of such negotiations, first reported by the Reuters news agency Thursday, would be a relief for Obama, who has made Mideast peace talks a high foreign policy priority in his administration.
The resumption of face-to-face meetings would be a measure of political success for his administration, even if the two sides didn't agree to discuss core issues that could relieve long-term hostilities and move the region toward a two-state solution.
As in previous talks, major issues would include the borders of a Palestinian state, Israeli security, the claims of Palestinian refugees and competing claims over Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is willing to make sacrifices for peace, but the hard-liners in his right-wing government have been reluctant to give ground to the Palestinians.
As for Abbas, it's not clear how decisive a commitment he could make on behalf of the Palestinians from his office in the West Bank. His rivals in the militant group Hamas control the Gaza Strip, home to about 1.5 million Palestinians.
Although pessimism may shadow the resumption of Mideast peace talks, a wild card in any new meetings is the role the U.S. may assume.
Obama has signaled that his government is willing to take a more active role than the previous administration, which was more reluctant to push the Israelis.
Such a prospect has stirred hope among Palestinians, who think Obama may have more sympathy for their cause, and anxiety among the Israelis, who worry the administration may press them for concessions that threaten their security.
Even such a small step toward peace is seen among American officials as a move toward building support in the Muslim world for the U.S. and its goals, including the military campaign in Afghanistan and the effort to halt Iran's nuclear program.
Parsons reported from Washington and Nicholas reported from Vineyard Haven.
Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.