Obama meets Abbas in bid to save US peace drive

Obama told Israeli Prime Minister that tough decisions are looming ahead of an end of April deadline

Washington: President Barack Obama meets Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, seeking to keep a US peace drive alive two weeks after also piling pressure on Israel to agree to extend talks.

Obama met Abbas after telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that tough decisions are looming ahead of an end of April deadline to agree on a framework for future negotiations.

But so far, Washington seems keener to prolong the initiative than Israel or the Palestinians, as a blame game rages that appears more a preparation for a breakdown of talks than cultivating the political ground for future concessions.

Obama told Netanyahu when they met at the White House on March 3 that the peace framework cannot be simply a deal agreed by Israel and the United States and then presented to the Palestinians as a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

But officials also privately say that the Palestinians will be required to make concessions on issues like the return of refugees and borders if they are to secure a state at long last.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama's message to Abbas will be consistent with the one he gave to the Israelis.

"He will commend president Abbas, as he did Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the tough decisions that each leader has made thus far in an effort to move the process forward,"

Carney said.

"He will speak of the need to establish a framework for negotiations going forward and the need -- as that takes place, for additional tough decisions to be taken.

"We hope that we will see progress."

Abbas said last week that he could not yet assess the "framework" because he had not seen it -- during the seven-month long peace drive that has reportedly yielded no agreements on key issues.

"When the framework is presented to us, we'll give our opinion on it," Abbas said on Thursday.

"We have never discussed prolonging the negotiations at all, nor was it offered to us."

Abbas met Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday ahead of the talks with Obama, who spent the weekend being briefed by his top officials on a more pressing foreign policy crisis, the showdown with Russia over Crimea.

A senior State Department official said the Kerry-Abbas meeting was "frank and productive."

The Palestinians want borders based on the lines that preceded the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, including now-annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

They have also insisted there should be no Israeli troops in their future state.

But Israel wants to retain existing settlements it has built inside occupied Palestinian territory over the past decades. It also wants to maintain a military presence in the

Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan.

( Source : AFP )
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