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WAR REPORT
Kerry winds up marathon Mideast talks
by Staff Writers
Tel Aviv (AFP) June 30, 2013


Palestinians downbeat as Kerry hails 'real progress'
Tel Aviv (AFP) June 30, 2013 - A top Palestinian official said on Sunday that there had been no breakthrough in marathon US-led efforts to revive direct peace talks but Washington's top diplomat said there had been "real progress".

"There has been no breakthrough so far and there is still a gap between the Palestinian and Israeli positions," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told reporters after US Secretary of State John Kerry finished talks in Ramallah with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, his third meeting in as many days.

But Kerry, however, insisted he had held "very positive" discussions with both sides since starting his intense shuttle diplomacy in Jerusalem on Thursday evening.

And he said that with "a little more work" the start of final status talks "could be within reach".

"I am pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on this trip and I believe that with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach," Kerry told reporters at Ben Gurion airport just before leaving for Brunei.

"We started out with very wide gaps and we have narrowed those considerably," he said, describing them as "very narrow".

"We have some specific details and work to pursue but I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track and that all the parties are working in very good faith in order to get to the right place."

Asked if Israel's settlement building had hampered efforts to achieve a breakthrough, he said: "The answer is no, there are any number of obstacles, but we are working through them.

"We have to have the courage to stay at this and to make some tough decisions," he said.

Kerry, who has over the last four days spent a total 13 hours in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and another six with Abbas, said he would return to the region without saying when.

"I'm going to come back because both leaders have asked me to," he said.

Kerry cancels UAE stop to focus on Mideast peace
Jerusalem (AFP) June 29, 2013 - US Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled a visit to the United Arab Emirates planned for Saturday to redouble his efforts to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, an official said.

Kerry, who had been due to hold talks over dinner in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, will instead spend his third straight day shuttling between Israeli leaders in Jerusalem and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Amman.

Kerry, on a marathon tour that has also taken him to India, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, will still proceed to Brunei for a meeting of Asian nations starting on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

"The secretary appreciates our partnership with the UAE, has phoned his counterpart Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed (al-Nahayan) with his regrets, and looks forward to visiting again in the future," she said.

As with his stops in other Gulf Arab states, Kerry's talks in the United Arab Emirates were expected to focus heavily on coordinating assistance to rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Kerry, on his fifth trip to the Middle East in as many months, is trying to restart direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down nearly three years ago.

American efforts to broker a resumption of peace talks ended on Sunday without a breakthrough, a senior Palestinian official said, although US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed "real progress".

Kerry has spent the past four days locked in intensive shuttle diplomacy between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership in a bid to draw the two sides back into direct negotiations after a gap of nearly three years.

But after 13 hours of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and about six hours with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Kerry's efforts ended on Sunday with no tangible signs of progress.

Speaking in Ramallah after Kerry's final meeting with Abbas, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said there had been "no breakthrough so far".

"There is still a gap between the Palestinian and Israeli positions," he told a news conference, adding Israel wants "to resume negotiations while settlements continue".

Kerry insisted, however, that his talks in Jerusalem, Amman and Ramallah, which began on Thursday evening, had been "very positive".

"I am pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on this trip and I believe that with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach," he told reporters at Ben Gurion airport just before leaving for Asia.

"We started out with very wide gaps and we have narrowed those considerably.

"We have some specific details and work to pursue but I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track and that all the parties are working in very good faith in order to get to the right place," said Kerry.

"We have all agreed that the best way to serve this effort is not to be floating ideas or the possibilities out there for everybody to tear apart."

Asked if Israel's settlement building hampered efforts to achieve a breakthrough, he said. "The answer is no, there are any number of obstacles, but we are working through them."

Kerry also pledged to return at some point to the region "because both leaders have asked me to," and refused to set a time framework to his diplomatic efforts.

"We're not going to get stuck with artificial deadlines," he said. "That's a big mistake."

Israel's Channel 2 television and Palestinian sources said Kerry would be back in the region "in a few days".

The Palestinians described his final meeting with Abbas on Sunday as "positive and profound". Sanding next to Abbas, Kerry said: "We both feel good about the direction."

Kerry spent most of his final night in Jerusalem cooped up in a hotel room with Netanyahu for a seven-hour session which ended just before 4:00 am (0100 GMT).

A few hours later a sleep-deprived Kerry headed to Ramallah for a third and final meeting with Abbas. Their previous two meetings took place in Amman.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, insisted Israel was not blocking a return to negotiations.

"We are not putting up any impediments on the resumption of the permanent talks for a peace agreement between us and the Palestinians," he said in remarks released by his office.

"There are things that we will strongly insist on in the talks themselves, especially security," he said, stressing any agreement would be "submitted to the people for a decision".

Israel's army radio said Netanyahu had refused to give ground on several key issues for the Palestinians.

Abbas has been pushing for Israel to free the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners, remove roadblocks and publicly agree to make the lines that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War the basis for talks.

The radio said Netanyahu was willing to consider the first two conditions -- but only after talks were under way. So far, Israel has flatly refused to countenance any return to the 1967 lines.

On the eve of Kerry's arrival, a local committee gave final approval to build some 70 homes in east Jerusalem.

Kerry toured the region five times since taking over the State Department in February and scrapped a planned trip Abu Dhabi on Saturday to devote more time to his shuttle diplomacy.

"Kerry is willing to put in the legwork necessary to move this process forward in a meaningful way," a US official said on condition of anonymity.

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