US Secretary of State John Kerry ended a shuttle diplomacy mission on Sunday without an agreement on resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but said gaps had been narrowed and he would return to the region soon.
"I'm 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. We started out with very wide gaps, and we have narrowed those considerably," he told a news conference before his departure at Tel Aviv airport.
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He further remarked, "I know progress when I see it, and we are making progress."
He would not elaborate, but said he would leave a team of aides in the region to continue the mediation efforts. He also said that at the request of both sides, he would return to the area in the near future.
Kerry and Abbas in Ramallah (Photo: AFP)
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said after Kerry met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah there had been some progress, "but we can't say there's been a breakthrough" towards reviving deadlocked peace talks.
Erakat told a news conference: "It was a positive and profound meeting with president Abbas but there has been no breakthrough so far and there is still a gap between the Palestinian and Israeli positions."
Abbas made no comment after the session, held after Kerry met for six hours overnight in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Narrowing gaps (Photo: Reuters)
Kerry said after the meeting: "We agreed we have made real progress but we have a few things we need to work on.
"We both feel good about the direction," Kerry said, standing next to Abbas at his presidential headquarters.
Netanyahu in cabinet meeting (Photo: Mark Israel Sellem, Jerusalem Post)
Following his late-night meeting with Kerry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday: "Israel is ready to enter into peace negotiations, without further delays or preconditions."
The prime minister further added that "there are things we will not comprise on, first and foremost security. I believe that the people must decide on any agreement we reach (through negotiations)."
Kerry has met both men repeatedly in separate locations since Wednesday in the hope of finding a formula to revive direct Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking stalled since 2010 by a dispute over Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The top US diplomat and his hosts have divulged little about the discussions, some of which took place in Jordan. But Israeli and Palestinian officials on Saturday saw little chance of a diplomatic breakthrough.
State Department official said Kerry's marathon discussions with Netanyahu and advisers in a hotel suite ended shortly before 4 am on Sunday.
Afterwards, Kerry strolled through the deserted streets of Jerusalem accompanied by his security and one of his advisers on the Middle East, Frank Lowenstein.
"They discussed a wide range of issues related to the peace process, building on their earlier conversations this week," a State Department official said of the meeting with Netanyahu.
Kerry is keen to get fresh peacemaking under way before the United Nations General Assembly, which has already granted de facto recognition to a Palestinian state, convenes in September.
AP, Reuters, AFP, Noam (Dabul) Dvir and Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report
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