Kerry pushing Israel, Palestinians to resume talks

By Deb Riechmann

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 29 2013 9:11 p.m. MDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the second time in Amman, Jordan, on Saturday, June 29, 2013, after shuttling to Jordan from Jerusalem in the morning. On his fifth trip to the Middle East, Kerry met with Abbas for the second time in two days as he continues a rushed round of shuttle diplomacy to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He plans to fly back to Jerusalem later in the day for more talks with Israeli officials.

Jacquelyn Martin, Pool, Associated Press

JERUSALEM — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, engaged in breakneck shuttle diplomacy to coax Israel and the Palestinians back into peace talks, is flying to the West Bank on Sunday to have a third meeting in as many days with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials have declined to disclose details of the past three days of closed-door meetings, but Kerry's decision to fly from Jerusalem to Ramallah, West Bank, to see Abbas again before he leaves the region was an indication that the secretary believes there is a chance of bringing the two sides together.

"Working hard" is all Kerry would say when a reporter asked him at a photo-op whether progress was being made.

Despite the lack of readouts, there are several clues that the meetings have been more than routine chats.

Most of Kerry's meetings have lasted at least two hours and several of them were much longer. His initial dinner meeting Thursday night with Netanyahu was clocked at four, and the one Saturday night in a hotel suite with the Israeli prime minister and his advisers lasted more than six hours.

After the meeting broke up past 3 a.m., Kerry took a pre-dawn stroll in Jerusalem with senior advisers. Kerry, the sleeves on his white shirt rolled up his arms, walked with a security escort to a park near the hotel, gesturing and talking with his top advisers on the Mideast peace process.

There were still more hints that Kerry's discussions might be gaining traction.

Legal, military and other officials accompanied Netanyahu at the meeting, perhaps an indication that discussions had reached a more detailed level.

Kerry canceled a visit to Abu Dhabi on his two-week swing through Asia and the Mideast because of his extended discussions on the Mideast peace process in Jerusalem and Amman, Jordan.

And just the sheer number of meetings since Thursday — three with Netanyahu and soon-to-be three with Abbas — could indicate that the two sides are at least interested in trying to find a way back to the negotiating table.

A senior U.S. State Department official said Kerry would travel to Ramallah on Sunday to meet Abbas. The U.S. official was not authorized to discuss the negotiations by name and requested anonymity.

The meeting, however, will further squeeze Kerry's itinerary. He's scheduled to be at a Southeast Asia security conference on Monday and Tuesday in Brunei — some 5,400 miles from Israel. On the sidelines of the conference, Kerry is to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an exchange that likely will focus on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. Kerry also is to have a trilateral discussion with Japanese and South Korean officials that likely will include the topic of North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

For now, however, Kerry has his head in the Middle East. Except for quick flights to meetings in Amman, Kerry mostly has been holed up on the upper floors of a hotel near Jerusalem's Old City engaged in deep, serious conversations about the decades-old conflict. On other floors, the hotel has been hosting large family gatherings, and noisy children in party clothes have been running up and down the hallways, oblivious to Kerry's presence.

There is deep skepticism that Kerry can get the two sides to agree on a two-state solution. It's something that has eluded presidents and diplomats for years. But the flurry of meetings has heightened expectations that the two sides can be persuaded to restart talks, which broke down in 2008, at the least.

So far, there have been no public signs that the two sides are narrowing their differences.

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