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Kerry Meets Netanyahu, Abbas in Bid to Reignite Peace Talks

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May 23 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel from Jordan signaling he hopes to prepare the ground for a “surprise” revival of peace talks with Palestinians.

The top U.S. diplomat said he aims to “lay on a path ahead that can conceivably surprise people and certainly exhaust the possibilities of peace.” He spoke in Jerusalem before meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that “above all, what we want to do is to restart the peace talks.”

Kerry, who also met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, has said he is pursuing a “quiet strategy” to ease the distrust between Israelis and Palestinians that has prevented Netanyahu and Abbas from meeting in more than two years. President Barack Obama held talks with both leaders during a visit to the region in March.

Kerry is on his fourth trip to the Middle East since succeeding Hillary Clinton in February. He met with foreign ministers from Arab and European allies in Amman yesterday to discuss the U.S.-Russian effort to promote negotiations between Syria’s government and rebels.

Kerry mentioned Russia’s planned sale of its S-300 missile-defense system to Syria, which Israeli military commanders have cited as a heightened threat to their country.

“The incredible destabilization of Syria is spilling over into Lebanon, Jordan and has an impact obviously on Israel,” Kerry said in Jerusalem before the meeting. “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.”

In Ramallah, Kerry provided Abbas “with a detailed update on ideas to strengthen the Palestinian economy,” while reaffirming “that this initiative would not take the place of a political track,” said a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic protocol.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled since 2010, after Netanyahu declined to extend a partial freeze on construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Abbas has said such building must stop, and the U.S. has called it detrimental to the peace process.

“Let’s put the blame game aside and let’s enter the negotiations room, the sooner the better,” said Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading her country’s negotiations with the Palestinians and met Kerry together with Netanyahu. “The next days and weeks are critical, and it’s important everyone stays focused,” Livni said, according to an e-mailed statement from her office.

After meeting Abbas, Kerry stopped for a shwarma sandwich lunch at a Ramallah restaurant, and then sampled the baklava at a nearby pastry shop while discussing politics with locals, an unusual move for a senior U.S. official.

Kerry will meet Netanyahu again tomorrow morning, the State Department official said. He is also scheduled to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

To contact the reporters on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at ilakshmanan@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at jferziger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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