News Column

John Kerry in Talks With Netanyahu, Abbas

May 23, 2013

US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah Thursday, pushing on - despite widespread "scepticism" - with his bid to resuscitate the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"I know this region well enough to know that there is scepticism," Kerry said, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the morning, and starting his third round of talks in Israel and the West Bank in as many months.

"In some quarters, there is cynicism, and there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment."

But he added: "It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient, but detailed and tenacious that we can lay out a path ahead that could conceivably surprise people but certainly exhaust the possibilities toward peace."

He later met over lunch with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The two were to meet again on Monday in Jordan, an official at Abbas' headquarters in the central West Bank city said.

Palestine Investment Fund President Mohammed Mustafa, a potential candidate to replace former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad who resigned April 13, attended the meeting, along with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and other officials.

Palestinian observers said Mustafa's presence was an opportunity to present him to the US.

Kerry began his mediation in March when he accompanied Barack Obama on the US president's first visit to Israel since taking office in 2009.

According to reports, the parties have given him a number of weeks, with each toning down what Washington regards as "unilateral actions."

Kerry has asked Netanyahu to "restrain" Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, but Palestinian officials have publicly continued to insist on a full settlement freeze.

He has asked the Palestinians to put on hold their actions in international bodies such as the United Nations.

"Both sides agreed to refrain from moves that would undermine the efforts," said Michael Herzog, a former top Israeli defence official, who since 1993 has played a key role in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and an international fellow The Washington Institute.

"The main effort behind the scenes is: if he can get the parties to agree on terms of reference for negotiations," the retired brigadier general told dpa, but added "this is highly complicated" and "little progress" had been made."

On Syria, Kerry said that Russia's delivery of S-300 missiles were "destabilizing to the region."

The turmoil in Syria had spill-over effects in Lebanon and Jordan and also had an impact on Israel, he said.

"The United States is committed not only in its defense of Israel, but in its concerns for the region, to try to address this issue," he said.

In addition to the instability in Syria, and the threat it poses to Israel, Iran's nuclear programme also topped the agenda, Netanyahu said.

"Above all what we want to do is to restart the peace talks with the Palestinians," Netanyahu said.

"It's something I want," he told Kerry. "It's something you want. It's something I hope the Palestinians want as well."

Netanyahu was also to meet British Foreign Secretary William Hague and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy later Thursday, before a second breakfast meeting with Kerry expected Friday morning.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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