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Kerry meets Arab ministers on peace process

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US Secretary of State John Kerry hosted talks with top Arab League officials Monday as he pursued painstaking efforts aimed at revitalizing the Middle East peace process.

The new top US diplomat has devoted time and energy to trying to find a way out of the impasse and bring all sides back to the negotiating table since taking office on February 1.

He has traveled three times to the region, meeting senior Israeli and Palestinian officials as well as Egyptian, Saudi, Jordanian, and Qatari leaders, in a bid to revive the peace talks, which last collapsed in late 2010.

The Arab Peace Initiative, unveiled in 2002 by Saudi Arabia, in which 22 Arab countries would normalize ties with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands, could be a way forward, Kerry has suggested.

"We're all here to have a very key discussion with respect to the Middle East peace process and other issues in the region," Kerry said as he welcomed a group of ministers to the talks.

"I think it's important that we have an opportunity to be able to talk frankly," he added.

In line with Kerry's so-called "quiet strategy," the talks were being held in the privacy of Blair House, often known as the president's guest house, just a short walk from the White House, and not at the State Department.

US Vice President Joe Biden was also expected to drop in on the talks, a White House official said.

Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim, chair of the Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee, headed the delegation, which also included Palestinian foreign affairs minister Riyad al-Maliki and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.

"I think it's an important meeting, an important era, which we hope will lead to peace, a comprehensive peace between the Arabs and the Israelis," Jassim said at the start of the talks.

"I have no doubt about your efforts and you showed your efforts since you've taken the office. And I believe that we are as Arabs serious in peace, but fair peace -- a fair deal for both parties."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr also attended, along with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa and top Saudi and Lebanese officials.

The talks came after a "series of productive conversations by the secretary to explore how we can best move regional peace efforts forward," deputy acting State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told journalists.

"We welcome the Arab League's eagerness to play a constructive role in the pursuit of a durable and lasting Middle East peace," Ventrell added.

The talks were also expected to delve into new proposals from Kerry to promote economic development on the West Bank -- a scheme in which he is hoping to attract private sector investment to boost Palestinian trust.

But Ventrell again cautioned Kerry was not planning to lay out any proposals to the Arab League nations.

"This is more about hearing from them and their perspective on the path forward and some of their opinions," he said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130429/kerry-meets-arab-ministers-peace-process