Kerry meets Fayyad, Peres on new Mideast trip

Top US diplomat John Kerry on Monday held talks in Jerusalem with Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad ahead of a meeting with 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 frozen since September 2010.

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

Early on Monday, he attended an official ceremony marking Holocaust Memorial Day then headed to the US consulate in west Jerusalem for talks with Fayyad, a US-educated economist who has won respect for cleaning up the finances of the Palestinian Authority and improving security in the West Bank.

"I believe if we can address the security needs of Israel, and they are real, and if we can the state aspirations of Palestinian people, and they are real, I believe that if we can get on a track where people are working in good faith to address the bottom line concerns, it is possible to be able to make progress and to make peace," Kerry said before the meeting.

He was to meet Peres immediately afterwards then have dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he was to hold a working meeting on Tuesday morning.

During his talks with Abbas, their third meeting in little over a month, they first discussed economic development with several top aides, then held a private session at which Kerry insisted the specifics be kept under wraps "in order to keep moving forward in a positive direction."

Abbas told him the release of prisoners held by Israel was a "top priority" for resuming peace talks, his spokesman 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, his political adviser told AFP last week.

"Any return to negotiations requires Netanyahu to agree on 1967 borders," Nimr Hammad said.

Netanyahu has said he would not accept a return to the borders of before the 1967 Middle East war, 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.