Kerry returns to Israel for talks with PM

US secretary of state to conduct third round of talks with Netanyahu; Army Radio reports Kerry expected to hold press conference Sunday to discuss trip, peace drive.

June 29, 2013 19:05
3 minute read.
US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

kerry meeting with netanyahu both smiling 370. (photo credit: GPO/Amos Ben Gershom)

US Secretary of State John Kerry returned via Tel Aviv to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the third time Saturday evening as part of his extensive Middle East peace mission over the weekend.

Kerry was due to convene a press conference on Sunday to discuss his most recent visit to the region under the framework of resuming stalled peace negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian, Army Radio reported.

US officials earlier in the day confirmed Kerry's expected press conference in Jordan had been postponed following a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to Israel Radio, countering Jordanian reports that he planned to announce the convention of a peace summit in Amman.

It was unclear whether Kerry would be able to announce a resumption of talks before his scheduled departure for Asia on Sunday.

Asked whether new talks might be imminent, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan told Channel 2 television: "To my regret, no, as of now."

He blamed "preconditions" set by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Kerry met in Jordan twice in two days, alternating the meetings with talks with Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

After cancelling a scheduled trip to Abu Dhabi earlier Saturday, Kerry flew from Jerusalem to the Jordanian capital Amman for yet another meeting with Abbas.

"Because Secretary Kerry's meetings on the peace process remain ongoing in Jerusalem and Amman, we will no longer be able to make a stop in Abu Dhabi," State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said. Kerry had apologized to the United Arab Emirates for his change in plans.

An Israeli official involved in the talks said Kerry's visit could yield an announcement that Israeli and Palestinian delegates would meet under US and Jordanian auspices.

"There is such a possibility, but it is not certain," the official told Reuters. A US official declined to comment.

Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories that Palestinians want within a future independent state.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat greeted Kerry on Saturday at Abbas's residence in Amman before the president joined them. Abbas and Kerry had met in Amman less than 24 hours earlier.

Erekat asked how Kerry's sessions with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres on Friday went. Kerry responded: "It was good, it was interesting."

State Department officials said Abbas and Kerry met privately for about two hours before advisers joined them.

"US efforts are continuing (but) until now no results that can lead to the resumption of negotiations," a Palestinian source, with knowledge of the talks, told Reuters.

Officials have compared Kerry's shuttle diplomacy to Henry Kissinger's Middle East peace efforts in the 1970s.

Kerry saw Netanyahu for several hours on Thursday as well as on Friday and had a Sabbath dinner with Peres. Israeli officials gave no details of those meetings.

Kerry - now on his fifth visit as a peace broker - has said he would not have returned to the region so soon if he did not believe he could make progress. He has been guarded about his plans to break the stalemate, while warning time is running out.

He is keen to clinch a deal to resume talks before the United Nations General Assembly, which has already granted de facto recognition to a Palestinian state, convenes in September.

Netanyahu is concerned that the Palestinians, in the absence of direct peace talks, could use the UN session as a springboard for further statehood moves circumventing Israel.

With the Middle East engulfed in turmoil from protests in Egypt to the Syrian civil war, which is spilling into neighboring countries, Kerry has said it is time for "hard decisions" by Israel and the Palestinians.

"It is urgent because time is the enemy of a peace process," he said in Kuwait last week. "The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don't want things to happen."

State Department officials believe the sides will return to negotiations once there is an agreement on confidence-building measures - such as a partial Israeli amnesty for Palestinian security prisoners - and a formula for fresh talks.

As an incentive for talks, Kerry is also working on a $4 billion economic plan led by ex-British prime minister Tony Blair, which would channel new investments in Palestinian areas via the private sector to boost jobs and economic growth

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