White House Hopeful About Mideast Peace Talks

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up the first days of renewed Mideast negotiations, standing side by side with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat at the State Department and calling the talks "positive and constructive."

Kerry said both sides agreed to remain engaged in negotiations over the next nine months, and will meet again in the region within two weeks in order to begin the process of formal negotiation.

"The parties have agreed here today that all of the final status issues, all of the core issues and all other issues are all on the table for negotiation," Kerry said. "And they are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict."

Kerry spoke of the meeting President Obama and Vice President Biden had with the parties on Tuesday morning, thanking the president for his leadership in the process.

"The president's support for our efforts, including his personal engagement with the parties this morning, has been essential, and I thank him for that," Kerry said.

A senior White House official told reporters that Obama has been engaged in the process since his visit to Israel and the West Bank last March and has been working closely with Kerry on the issue. The official said the president spoke extensively with Kerry before the secretary's announcement July 19 that talks would resume, following the president's call the previous day with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The official said Obama appreciates Kerry's "diligent" work, but understands that the most difficult work lies ahead.

Kerry said the details of the negotiations will remain confidential and despite the inevitable reports that will leak out, he will provide the only official comments.

"The only announcement you will hear about meetings is the one that I just made. And I will be the only one, by agreement, authorized to comment publicly on the talks, in consultation, obviously, with the parties," said Kerry. "That means that no one should consider any reports, articles or other - or even rumors reliable unless they come directly from me, and I guarantee you they won't."

The White House official also said that the nine-month timetable was not a deadline, but more of a commitment to keep the talks sustained through what he called inevitable "provocations" from people who do not necessarily want to see a peace agreement.

"Everybody knows that on both sides there will be people who will do things to make this more difficult," the official said. "We hope that the parties will understand that, realize what's going on and do what they can to not be provoked into letting those who are determined to interfere with the process ."

Kerry said that after two decades of negotiations that have started and stopped numerous times, now is the time for a solution.

"When somebody tells you that Israelis and Palestinians cannot find common ground or address the issues that divide them, don't believe them," Kerry said. "I think everyone involved here believes that we cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time.

"So while I understand the skepticism, I don't share it," he said. "And I don't think we have time for it."

On Sunday, the State Department announced the resumption of direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, the first talks between the parties in three years.

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