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Clinton toughens language on Mideast talks

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Israelis and Palestinians to stop "demonizing" each other and to make "real progress" in peace talks in the next few months.

Addressing senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, she expressed "deep frustration" that negotiations haven't gone further and faster. Both sides "have often not been ready to take the necessary steps," she said in a speech in Washington late Friday. "They must take responsibility and make the difficult decisions that peace requires."

As Israelis and Palestinians enter a new phase of talks after direct negotiations broke down in September, Clinton said the United States would offer proposals to bridge differences between the two groups "when appropriate."

Clinton spoke to an audience that included Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Clinton adopted stern language in her first public remarks on the Middle East peace process just days since the administration decided to stop pressuring Israel to renew a moratorium on West Bank settlement construction.

"Palestinians must appreciate Israel's legitimate security concerns," Clinton said. "And Israelis must accept the legitimate territorial aspirations of the Palestinian people. Ignoring the other side's needs is in the end self-defeating."

"The world is changing before our eyes and is no longer willing to accept our continued control over another people," Barak said in a speech that followed Clinton's. As for an agreement, Barak said, "in the coming weeks we will find a way to make it happen."

After talks with Clinton earlier Friday, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat blamed the Israeli government for the breakdown in talks and said the Palestinians would keep consulting with the U.S., UN, European Union and Arab League on how to proceed. He said Palestinian opposition to the West Bank issue was unchanged. With AP

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