Mideast peace talks at 'pivotal' juncture

Top US diplomat John Kerry urged Palestinian prime minister Mahmud Abbas on Sunday to work hard to narrow huge differences with the Israelis at a "pivotal" time for peace talks.

Palestinian and Israeli leaders have been locked in talks the US secretary of state fought hard to launch in July after a three-year hiatus, but as negotiations have faltered, Israel has kicked up more obstacles to a peace deal that would end decades of conflict.

A senior State Department official said Kerry held a "frank and productive discussion" with Abbas ahead of the Palestinian leader's talks with President Barack Obama in the White House Oval Office on Monday.

"The secretary thanked President Abbas for his steadfast leadership and partnership over the past few months and encouraged him to make the tough decisions that will be necessary in the weeks ahead," the official added.

"He also reiterated that we are at a pivotal time in the negotiations and while these issues have decades of history behind them, neither party should let tough political decisions at this stage stand in the way of a lasting peace."

Kerry hopes the two sides will agree on a US-proposed framework to guide final status negotiations, before the impending deadline for the current round of talks on April 29.

But he is aware of the danger posed to talks by a recent Israeli demand -- that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state -- and came out strongly against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's emphasis on it ahead of Abbas's visit to the United States.

The official said Kerry and his negotiating team would continue to work with both sides to "narrow the gaps" over the coming days.