AFP - US envoy George Mitchell called on Thursday for Arab states to take "meaningful steps and important actions" to make peace with Israel, after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.
But Abul Gheit stressed that Israel should first take its own "serious" steps such as ending Jewish settlements and reducing the military occupation of the West Bank before Arab states would act.
Mitchell arrived in Cairo from Israel and the Palestinian territories, reiterating Washington's position that a Palestinian state was the only viable answer to the Middle East conflict.
"We are working hard to achieve our objective, a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel," Mitchell told reporters.
This includes "peace between Israel and its other immediate neighbours and full normalisation of relations between Israel and all of the Arab nations as contemplated by the Arab peace initiative," he said.
The 2002 initiative, backed by all 22 members of the Arab League, offers Israel full normalisation in return for a withdrawal from territory occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, a Palestinian state and an equitable solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
Mitchell also recalled the two sides' obligations under the 2003 international "roadmap" peace plan that among other things demands that the Palestinians halt violence and Israel stop settlement activity.
"Israelis and Palestinians have responsibility to meet their obligations under the roadmap. It is not just their responsibility. We believe it is in their interest as well."
"As President (Barack) Obama said here in Cairo just last week, the Arab states have an important role to play ... We regard the Arab peace initiative as an important proposal that we are trying to integrate into our effort.
"Proposing the initiative was just the beginning. It brings with it responsibilities to join in taking meaningful steps and important actions that will help us move towards our objective."
But Abul Gheit said that Arab states would take steps towards normalisation, such as allowing Israeli trade missions to reopen as they were before the intifada of 2000, once they saw Israel take its own "serious and real" steps.
"Any Arab act must be matched by an act," Abul Gheit said in answer to a question on what exactly was meant by "meaningful Arab steps."
"There must be a substantial Israeli act which consists of a complete end to settlement activity and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from all (West Bank) towns and the end of the (Gaza) blockade.
"If we see serious and real Israeli steps we think that Arab parties will also be ready to return to the situation existing before 2000," he said.
"If the peace process moves forward, Egypt will not be against... Arab acts to encourage the Israeli side to advance still further on the path of peace."
Abul Gheit stressed that one-sided Arab application of the 2002 initiative was not the way forward.
"If Israel wants concessions from the Arab side and for Arab countries to first start applying all of the Arab initiative, that will not be the path to peace, because this will mean leaving the Palestinians to deal with Israel on their own, and (Israel) would already have obtained what they wanted."
Mitchell is due in Beirut later Thursday and Damascus on Friday and Saturday in what will be his first trip to Syria.