Kerry upbeat after 3 days of Mideast diplomacy

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday wrapped up three days of high-level Mideast diplomacy on a positive note, saying he held "very constructive talks" with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and promising to press on in an effort to break a four-year deadlock over resuming direct negotiations.

Talking to reporters after holding private talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kerry said the parties all committed to a process that could "create the conditions for peace" so that they can return to the negotiating table.

Kerry stressed that he was being mindful of the "good intentions and failed efforts" that have dogged Middle East diplomacy in the past and said he'd focus on "laying the groundwork so we can bring people to the table with a clear understanding of what we're beginning on, what we're trying to do, and where we're trying to end up."

Kerry, who has committed the United States to a multi-month diplomatic effort, stressed that he was being intentionally coy on the specifics of his new peace push.

"It's not going to be done and shouldn't be done in piecemeal public releases," he said. "It's best done quietly."

The secretary of state also said he would be engaging in a parallel effort to break down red tape and other barriers to economic progress in the West Bank to improve the lives of Palestinians and provide a climate for two-state solution. He said such an effort would also improve Israel's security.

He said changes would come soon, and said more details would be announced in the coming week after meetings in Washington with U.S. aid agencies and financial institutions.

Netanyahu told reporters earlier Tuesday that he wanted peace. He welcomed proposals for economic assistance to the Palestinians, but said issues of recognition and security remain "foremost in our minds."

"I'm determined not only to resume the peace process with the Palestinians but to make a serious effort to end this conflict once and for all," he told reporters before meeting Kerry. Addressing the top American diplomat, he said, "This is a real effort and we look forward to advance in this effort with you."

Kerry stressed that he was not trying to dictate the terms of any peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.

He noted the importance of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, a document that has gotten renewed attention this week as Kerry and Arab officials have discussed modifying its terms to boost Israeli-Palestinian peace hopes. But he said the document belongs to Arab countries themselves.

"It suggests ... a way forward for the Arab world to make peace with Israel," he said. "As such, it remains a very important statement."

Associated Press
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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