Hillary Clinton heads to Mideast to boost fledgling peace talks

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to the Middle East this week to nudge along fledgling peace talks that face a first test with the looming expiration of an Israeli settlement freeze.

US President Barack Obama called Friday on Israel to extend the partial freeze that expires September 26 while he pledged his administration would remain deeply engaged in the new negotiations.

As a sign of active and high-level US participation, the chief US diplomat, accompanied by Middle East envoy George Mitchell, will attend talks on Tuesday in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and Jerusalem on Wednesday.

She will meet there with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, whom she hosted in Washington on September 3 for the launch of the first direct peace talks in 20 months.

Robert Danin, a former deputy US assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, expected settlements to be a “key issue” during the second round of talks.