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Kerry to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace with Arabs

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement to the media regarding his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (not pic
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement to the media regarding his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (not pic

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss his effort to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with Arab officials in Jordan on Wednesday, according to the State Department, which declined to comment on whether a resumption may be at hand.

Kerry will leave Washington on Monday night to fly to Amman to see officials from Jordan and the Arab League, which put forward a peace proposal in 2002 that offered full Arab recognition of Israel if it gave up land seized in a 1967 war and accepted a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

There is deep skepticism among diplomats and Middle East analysts that the Israelis and Palestinians are likely to resume peace talks. Some regard the issue as a sideshow to Syria's civil war, the Egyptian army's overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi and Iran's suspected efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

Still, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki sounded an optimistic note about the chances for peace even though she, and another senior U.S. official, declined to say whether or not Kerry's upcoming trip might be decisive.

"The secretary would not be going back to the region if he did not feel there was an opportunity (for) taking steps forward in providing an update to representatives of the Arab League ... but beyond that I don't have any announcements or predictions to make," Psaki said in a news briefing.

She said Kerry was likely to discuss Syria's civil war, which has dragged on for more than two years, with the Arab officials. He was also ready to talk about the current visit to Egypt by his deputy, William Burns.

A Palestinian official told Reuters in Ramallah that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would see Kerry in Amman on Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss his drive to resume peace talks.

Psaki declined to comment on whether Kerry would meet Palestinian or Israeli officials, or on speculation that peace talks, which collapsed in 2010, might be close to resuming.

KERRY UPBEAT ON LAST TRIP

Kerry is embarking on his sixth peace-making journey to the region since he took office on February 1 and his first foreign trip since his wife suffered a seizure on July 7. Some observers saw this as a hint that he may have progress to unveil.

Kerry ended his last trip on an upbeat note, saying he believed "with a little more work the start of final status negotiations could be within reach" before departing Israel on June 30, leaving two senior aides behind to continue talks.

"It feels to us that ... he would not be going back so quickly if it was not to seal the deal. So we feel optimistic," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of a group called J Street, which describes itself as a pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby.

Israeli-Palestinian peace-making broke down in a dispute over building Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for an independent state.

Abbas has said that, for new talks to be held, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu must freeze the settlements and recognize the West Bank's boundary before its capture by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for the border of a future Palestine.

Israel, seeking to keep its settlement blocs under any peace accord, has balked at those terms.

In Amman, Kerry plans to meet Jordanian King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

On Wednesday, he was expected to see representatives from the same Arab League group that he last met on April 29, which included officials from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, a senior U.S. official told reporters.

Kerry has sought to ensure that any new peace process would have the backing of the Arab states, who, if they were to offer Israel a comprehensive peace, hold a powerful card that could provide an incentive for Israel to compromise.

The core issues that must be settled in the dispute, which has lasted six decades, include borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Maayan Lubell.; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Christopher Wilson)

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