U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry speaks Friday during a news conference… (Mandel Ngan / Associated…)
JERUSALEM – In a surprise announcement, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Friday night that he would host the top Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington as early as next week in a possible renewal of long-stalled peace talks.
Kerry’s remarks, made after two days of negotiations to persuade both sides to accept his framework for renewing talks, seemed to catch everyone off guard. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have publicly embraced Kerry’s proposal.
But U.S. officials said the two sides narrowed their differences Friday afternoon.
"They have agreed on core elements that will allow direct talks to move forward," said a senior State Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and therefore requested anonymity.
No Israelis or Palestinians were present during Kerry's news conference in Amman, Jordan. Israelis said they had no immediate comment.
Skeptics said that Kerry’s pressure might bring the parties together in the same room but that chances for success will be low if one or both sides is a reluctant participant.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh issued a statement saying, “As a result of the meetings and long discussion with President Abbas in the last few days, progress was made which brought agreement on the principles that allow resumption of negotiations.”
But Palestinian officials cautioned that it was premature to say that direct negotiations had resumed and that final details of any agreement must still be worked out.
Palestinians had been particularly skeptical about renewing talks, saying Kerry's plan does not go far enough in forcing Israel to accept as a basis of talks the borders that existed before Israel seized additional territory in the 1967 Middle East War.
In his brief remarks Friday night, Kerry also cautioned that the agreement was still being formalized. For two days U.S. officials had said they did not expect to announce a resumption of talks and that Kerry was likely to return next month to try again.
Now U.S. officials say Kerry will host a meeting that will include chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho.
It remained unclear what issues could be discussed next week or when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas might join the process.
“This is a significant and welcome step forward,’’ Kerry said.
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