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Further headache for Obama after collapse of Middle East peace talks
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  • 07:04 27 April 2014
Further headache for Obama after collapse of Middle East peace talks
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Dan Roberts

Barack Obama on Friday acknowledged the collapse of the US-led Middle East peace process, the latest in a line of diplomatic setbacks to overshadow his trip to Japan and South Korea.

Speaking at the end of a bruising week for White House foreign policy, the president said that after nine months of pressure from the US, there wasn't the will among either Israeli or Palestinian politicians to take “tough decisions” necessary to reach a deal.

"Folks can posture, folks can cling to maximalist positions, but realistically there is one door, and that is the two parties getting together and making some very difficult political compromises in order to secure the future of Israelis and Palestinians for future generations," Obama told reporters in a press conference in Seoul.

"Do I expect that they will walk through that door next week, next month or even in the course of the next six months? No."

His pessimism, which followed the suspension of Israeli participation on Thursday after a controversial Palestinian alliance with Hamas, contrasted with early reaction at the State Department, which had insisted the moves were simply the latest in a line of “ups and downs”.

Attempts to pressure both sides to the negotiating table have been led by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, but Obama has also invested significant political capital in a process he now admits may have reached a stalemate.

Although also pledging the US would continue to offer "constructive approaches", Obama told reporters on Friday: "There may come a point at which there just needs to be a pause, and [where] both sides need to look at the alternatives."

"So far we have seen some movement on both sides to acknowledge that this is a long-running crisis that needs to be solved," he added. "What we haven't seen is, frankly, the kind of political will to actually make tough decisions. And that's been true on both sides."

But the US administration has yet to specify whether there will be any consequences for either side to resisting its pressure to reach a compromise – a factor critics say is also partly to blame to for a series of similar recent foreign policy setbacks.

On Thursday, the State Department said it was “up to Congress” to decide whether the Palestinian alliance with Hamas, which it brands a terrorist organisation, would lead to a ban on US financial aid.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon also announced it would restart US aid to Egypt, which was temporarily suspended after its military coup led to a crackdown on protesters, despite questions over whether such aid was legal under US law.

Similar questions have been raised over the US response to the collapse of a Ukrainian peace deal reached last week in Geneva.

On Thursday night, Kerry accused Russia of reneging on the deal by not pressuring pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine to disarm, but the US and Europe have yet to announce a response other than to warn of the possibility of further economic sanctions.

Economic co-operation among US allies was also under strain during Obama's trip to Japan, where the two governments failed to agree new farm agreements central to stalled talks on a broader international free trade deal.