Kerry Extends Mideast Shuttle Diplomacy With More Stops

Secretary of State John Kerry extended his Mideast shuttle diplomacy today with another round of talks with Palestinian and Israeli officials.

The top U.S. diplomat met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for two hours today in Amman, Jordan. He then headed back to Jerusalem, where he planned to hold a third session in three days with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a State Department official who asked not to be identified discussing the itinerary.

While Kerry has given no hints publicly about whether the talks were fruitful, the addition of more meetings indicated he saw value in extending the hours of conversations that were punctuated by hours of travel. Kerry canceled plans to travel to Abu Dhabi this evening to accommodate the added meetings.

“Working hard,” Kerry said in Amman, when asked by a reporter if he was making progress on his fifth peace mission in the region since taking office in February. Kerry is trying to bring Israeli and Palestinian officials back to the negotiating table for the first time in almost three years.

The discussions began June 27 with an almost four-hour dinner with Netanyahu that ended early yesterday morning in Jerusalem. Later yesterday, Kerry met with Abbas in Amman and then flew back to Jerusalem for three more hours of talks with Netanyahu at the David Citadel Hotel.

He ended the day visiting at the presidential residence with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who told him, “All of us admire your investment in creating really the right environment.”

Before September

While Kerry has said he will set no deadlines for starting a new round of talks, he said June 26 that some progress toward reviving the process needs to be made “long before September,” when the next session of the United Nations General Assembly begins. The assembly recognized a state of Palestine last year, and the Palestinians have threatened to use this status to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel.

Kerry’s efforts have been complicated by Israel’s continued moves to build settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which the U.S. State Department has called “unproductive.”

Israel approved plans on June 26 for 69 new homes in a section of Jerusalem captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War. Palestinians consider it occupied territory. A municipal building committee approved the permits, city spokeswoman Brachie Sprung said by telephone.

Settlement Dispute

The latest move to add housing is unhelpful as the U.S. is urging all parties to help create a climate for peace, a State Department official said, speaking on condition of not being identified.

The Palestinians have refused to return to talks without a freeze in settlement construction, and they have signaled they might resume their quest at the UN to join the International Criminal Court.

Abbas said in a June 26 interview on Al Jazeera television that he hopes Kerry brings “something important” and new that will help narrow the gaps with Israel and lead to fresh talks. Netanyahu said this week that he’ll engage in peace negotiations if Palestinians indicate they’re willing to address all substantial issues and resolve the conflict.

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