Report: Kerry to announce convention of Amman peace summit


REUTERS06/29/2013 13:34

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Secretary of state cancels press meet; plans to return to J'lem.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Ramallah Photo: REUTERS

US officials on Saturday confirmed that US Secretary of State John Kerry's press conference in Jordan has been postponed, Israel Radio reported, countering Jordanian reports that he planned to announce the convention of a peace summit in Amman.

Earlier on Saturday, cancelling a scheduled trip to Abu Dhabi, Kerry flew from Jerusalem to the Jordanian capital Amman for yet another meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. According to Jordanian reports, Kerry reportedly stated to Abbas that the issues of borders and Israel's security demands would be at the heart of intensive negotiations.

"Because Secretary Kerry's meetings on the peace process remain ongoing in Jerusalem and Amman, we will no longer be able to make a stop in Abu Dhabi," State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said, adding that Kerry had apologized to the United Arab Emirates for his change in plans.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat greeted Kerry on Saturday at Abbas's residence in Amman before the president joined them. Abbas and Kerry had met in Amman less than 24 hours earlier. Erekat asked how Kerry's meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres on Friday went. Kerry responded: "It was good, it was interesting."

State Department officials said Abbas and Kerry met privately for about two hours before advisers joined them.

"US efforts are continuing (but) until now no results that can lead to the resumption of negotiations," a Palestinian source, with knowledge of the talks, told Reuters.

Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour reported on Saturday that the secretary of state was expected to announce a four-way summit in Amman compromising of Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and American negotiators.

According to Ad-Dustour, Kerry was to announce the summit at the now-postponed press conference, which was meant to have been held in the afternoon.

The report stated that the summit is expected to be a starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Verifying the report, an Israeli official involved in the talks said Kerry's visit could yield an announcement that Israeli and Palestinian delegates would meet under US and Jordanian auspices. "There is such a possibility, but it is not certain," the official told Reuters. A US official declined to comment.

Kerry is reported to return to Jerusalem on Saturday night for a third meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Israeli officials.

Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories that Palestinians want within a future independent state.

On Friday, Kerry accelerated his Middle East shuttle diplomacy in the hope of persuading Israel and the Palestinians to resume direct peace negotiations.

After seeing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, Kerry flew by helicopter to Jerusalem for evening talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - a meeting that had been originally expected to take place on Saturday.

A senior State Department official said the three-hour meeting with Netanyahu involved a "detailed and substantive conversation about the way forward". Syria's civil war and Iran were also discussed.

It was the men's second meeting in two days, suggesting a new urgency in Kerry's latest monthly visit to the region. Israeli officials declined to discuss the content of the talks.

Later, Kerry met President Shimon Peres at his residence in a quiet suburb of Jerusalem. Peres praised Kerry for his determination in trying to revive talks.

"I know this is difficult, there are many problems, but as far as I'm concerned I can see how (among) people, there is a clear majority for the peace process, a two-state solution, and a great expectation that you will do it and that you can do it," he told Kerry.

Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories that the Palestinians seek for a future state.

Abbas has insisted that building in the settlements, viewed as illegal by most world powers, be halted before talks resume. He also wants Israel to recognize the boundary of the West Bank as the basis for the future Palestine's border.

It was unclear whether Kerry would be able to announce a deal on Saturday to restart talks, or whether he will have to return again for follow-up meetings.

More talks ahead Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rdaineh said Abbas would meet Kerry again in Jordan on Saturday, and that a "clear response" was needed from Israel before talks could resume. A State Department official confirmed the Abbas meeting.

Israel wants to keep settlement blocs under any future peace accord and has rejected Abbas's demands as preconditions. But it has also quietly slowed down housing starts in settlements.

Palestinian and US officials did not immediately comment on the results of the Abbas-Kerry meeting. Ze'ev Elkin, Israel's deputy foreign minister, placed the peacemaking onus on Abbas.

Asked on Israel Radio whether Kerry's visit - his fifth - could bring a breakthrough, Elkin said: "The only one who knows the answer to that question is not Kerry, nor Netanyahu, but Abu Mazen (Abbas)." Kerry has divulged little of his plan to bring the sides together, but has said he would not have returned to the region if he did not believe there could be progress.

He is also keen to clinch a peacemaking deal before the United Nations General Assembly, which has already granted de facto recognition to a Palestinian state, convenes in September.

Netanyahu is concerned that the Palestinians, in the absence of direct peace talks, could use the UN session as a springboard for further statehood moves circumventing Israel.

State Department officials believe the sides will return to negotiations once there is an agreement on confidence-building measures - for example, partial Israeli amnesty for Palestinian security prisoners - and a formula for fresh talks.

Part of the incentive for the Palestinians to return to talks is a $4 billion economic plan led by former British prime minister Tony Blair, whom Kerry also met in Jordan.

The plan involves investments from large private-sector firms that will boost jobs and spur economic growth in agriculture, construction and tourism.