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December 13, 2013

Kerry back in Mideast to push peace talks

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Continuing a furious pace of shuttle diplomacy aimed at securing an elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by spring, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opened meetings Thursday in the Middle East on his ninth trip of the year to the region.

Concerned that a final status agreement may not be possible by the May target, senior U.S. officials said Kerry was hoping for a framework accord that would contain the principles of a comprehensive pact, but not specific details. If such an outline could be achieved, the negotiations could be extended beyond the nine-month timeline originally set by Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the officials said.

The officials, who spoke to reporters aboard Kerry’s plane on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, stressed that an agreement on all issues — including security, borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees — by May remains the goal. But, should that prove unworkable, they said a framework agreement would buy time for additional negotiations. Netanyahu and Abbas agreed after numerous rounds of meetings with Kerry to negotiate for a minimum of nine months.

A framework accord, the officials said, would be a “logical step” on the path to a final status agreement.

As rare, heavy snow fell on Israel and the Palestinian territories, Kerry met Thursday evening with Abbas in Ramallah. He is to see Netanyahu on Friday before heading to Jordan and then flying to Vietnam and the Philippines.

In Ramallah and Jerusalem, he will also follow up on elements of a West Bank security plan, ideas for which he unveiled on his most recent visit to the region just last week, and other points of potential progress. But his latest visit comes amid Palestinian unhappiness with the security plan and few, if any, tangible signs of progress.

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