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Kerry meets Fayyad, Peres on new Mideast trip

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Top US diplomat John Kerry was in Jerusalem on Monday for talks with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and then Israeli President Shimon Peres on his second trip to the region in two weeks.

Kerry, who is US President Barack Obama's new pointman on the Middle East, is back on a fresh mission to coax Israel and the Palestinians back to negotiations which have been at an impasse since September 2010.

After touching down in Israel on Sunday, he headed straight to Ramallah where he held 90 minutes of talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in what a top State Department official said was "a constructive meeting."

On Monday morning, he joined top Israeli officials at a ceremony marking Holocaust Memorial Day and was expected to hold talks with Fayyad at the US consulate in west Jerusalem later in the afternoon, officials said.

Immediately afterwards, he was to meet Peres at his Jerusalem residence before having dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kerry and Netanyahu are scheduled to hold a working meeting on Tuesday morning before the US diplomat's departure for London.

During Kerry's talks with Abbas, their third such meeting in little over a month, they first focused on economic development in a 20-minute meeting with several top Palestinian and US officials.

They then held a private hour-long session at which they "agreed to continue working together to determine the best path forward," with Kerry insisting the specifics be kept under wraps "in order to keep moving forward in a positive direction."

Abbas said the release of prisoners held by Israel was a "top priority" for resuming peace talks, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.

The Palestinian leader has repeatedly made clear there would be no return to negotiations without a settlement freeze, but he has also made it known he would suspend for two months all efforts to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state to give US-brokered efforts a chance.

Abbas also wants Netanyahu to present a map of the borders of a future Palestinian state before talks can resume.

"Any return to negotiations requires Netanyahu to agree on 1967 borders," his political adviser Nimr Hammad told AFP last week.

Netanyahu has on several occasions said he would not accept a return to 1967 borders, and on Monday a high-ranking political official told Israel's Maariv newspaper that presenting a map was out of the question.

"It would be insane to present such a map. In effect, this means giving up our most important asset, without the Palestinians having committed themselves to anything -- neither recognition of Israel as a Jewish state nor security arrangements," he said.

"It seems that the Palestinians are looking for an excuse to prevent the possibility of renewing the talks."

Speaking in Istanbul before flying to Israel on Sunday, Kerry said he saw Ankara as "an important contributor to the process of peace."

But Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's newly appointed lead negotiator for peace talks, played down the idea of Ankara's immediate involvement, saying it was "interesting, but it could take time."

Washington's top diplomat also urged Turkey and Israel to fully normalise their relationship, two weeks after the Jewish state apologised for a deadly 2010 raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, ending a nearly three-year rift between the two key US allies in the region.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130408/kerry-meets-fayyad-peres-new-mideast-trip