NEW YORK — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that achieving peace between the Israelis and Palestinians may be the "toughest deal of all" that he's tried to negotiate, adding that his administration nonetheless is working hard for peace in the region.
He said there's a "pretty good shot" he can broker an agreement that has eluded several of his predecessors.
"We are looking seriously at peace and maybe ultimately peace for the whole of the Middle East and I think we have a pretty good shot, maybe the best shot ever," the president said as he opened a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"It's a complex subject, always been considered the toughest deal of all: peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the toughest of all," Trump continued. "I think we have a very, very good chance. I will certainly devote everything in my heart and within my soul to get a deal made."
Trump did not explain what his optimism was based on. Since taking office, the president has talked confidently about using the skills he sharpened as a real estate developer to help broker an agreement. But there are few tangible signs that progress toward a deal has been achieved.
He has given the Mideast portfolio to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser. Kushner and other officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Israel and Trump's deputy national security adviser, recently returned from a trip to the region.
Trump has spent this week powering through a series of one-on-one meetings with foreign counterparts in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly session. He addressed the gathering for the first time Tuesday, but made only passing references to the Middle East when talking about terrorism. He offered no detail on prospects for a peace agreement.
And White House officials played down the prospects for a breakthrough on the Mideast issue heading into the New York meetings.
Abbas, meanwhile, expressed confidence that they are "on the verge" of a deal, possibly before the end of the year.
"This meeting attests to the seriousness of your efforts to achieve the deal of the century during the year or in the coming months," Abbas said before Trump and Abbas retreated behind closed doors for talks.
Behind the scenes, the Palestinians, in particular, have grown restless with Trump's lack of specifics. Neither he nor his negotiators have sketched out the contours of what they think a final agreement should look like, or outlined any strategy designed to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And top Palestinian officials say Trump envoys recently relayed that they'll need another three or four months to devise a plan.7 comments on this story
In the meantime, Trump's declarations about Mideast peace appear to have moved the Palestinians further away from their goal of an independent country alongside Israel. Trump hasn't explicitly supported an independent Palestine and has raised the possibility of looking beyond a two-state solution, the preferred outcome of Democratic and Republican presidents for decades.
Trump met in New York earlier this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump said at that meeting that a peace deal would be a "fantastic achievement" and that "we are giving it an absolute go."
AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.