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January 6, 2014

Kerry cites some Mideast progress

RAMALLAH, West Bank — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday cited progress on the Mideast peace process, yet acknowledged that some of the most intractable disputes between Israelis and Palestinians were unsolved after more than 20 rounds of negotiations.

“This is hard work,” he told reporters after a 2 1/2-hour meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, their second in two days.

Afterward, Kerry resumed his shuttle diplomacy by heading back to Jerusalem for his third set of discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in as many days.

“We’re not there yet, but we are making progress,” Kerry said outside Abbas’ West Bank headquarters. “We are beginning to flesh out the toughest hurdles yet to be overcome.”

Kerry is trying to nudge Abbas and Netanyahu closer to a peace pact that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The talks have entered an intense phase aimed at getting the two sides to agree on a framework and provide guidance toward a final settlement. Reaching a deal on that framework is not expected on this trip, Kerry’s 10th to the region for peace talks.

He cited difficult complications and enduring mistrust that have built up over the years.

All of that, Kerry said, has to be “worked through and undone and a pathway has to be laid down in which the parties can have confidence that they know what is happening and that the road ahead is real, not illusory.”

He said he was confident that his most recent talks with both sides had “fleshed out — even resolved — certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others.”

“It’s a tough process, step by step, day by day,” Kerry said.

Despite criticism, protests and difficult questions from their constituencies, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are committed to the idea of their people living peacefully, side by side, and are convinced that progress so far is sufficient to keep negotiating.

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