Kerry presses ahead with Middle East talks, plans new visit to region

Kerry presses ahead with Middle East talks, plans new visit to region
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, left, and top Palestinian negotiator Saeeb Arekat address the media after a meeting Saturday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. (Atef Safadi / European Pressphoto Agency)

RAMALLAH, West Bank –- Secretary of State John F. Kerry pressed forward Saturday with his Middle East peace mission, returning to Jerusalem for fresh meetings with Israeli leaders after holding his second session in two days with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Before leaving the West Bank city of Ramallah, Kerry said he was going to return to the region next week in what would be his 11th visit since taking office less than a year ago, but not before the parties do "some serious homework."

"I remain hopeful, as I have been, and I am confident that the talks we have had in the last two days have already fleshed out and even resolved certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others," Kerry said after concluding three hours of talks with Abbas.

Before that, he met for five hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem immediately upon arriving in Israel on Thursday and for another three hours on Friday morning.

Kerry said he is going to travel to Jordan and Saudi Arabia on Sunday and meet next week with the Arab League's committee on Middle East peace to brief them on progress in the talks.

Kerry is working on a framework agreement that would guide the parties in their negotiations to reach a final peace treaty.

"A pathway has to be laid down in which the parties have confidence that they know what is happening and that the road ahead is real, not illusory," Kerry said. "We are trying to find a framework agreement that would really lay out the end zone, lay out the framework to guide the negotiations from this point forward."

Nabil abu Rudaineh, spokesman for Abbas, said in a statement after the Saturday meeting that the talks were intensive and that they discussed "all positions and ideas."

He said Abbas stressed that he will not accept any partial or transitional solution and that he insists on an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, both negotiating points the Israelis have repeatedly rejected.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the framework agreement Kerry was talking about is not an interim agreement for a transitional period.

"We are working hard to achieve an agreement on all core issues," he said.

Abukhater is a special correspondent.