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Kerry to brief Arab leaders on peace talks

July 17, 2013 10:04 A.M. (Updated: July 18, 2013 1:24 P.M.)
AMMAN (AFP) -- US Secretary of State John Kerry was Wednesday to meet Arab League officials, after dinner talks with president Mahmoud Abbas on unblocking the peace process stretched into the night.

Kerry and Abbas met for five hours in an upscale hotel in Jordan as they shared a traditional iftar dinner to break the day-long fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

"They continued the conversation they have been having for the last few months and touched on recent developments in the region," a senior State Department official said in a statement.

The two men also "discussed details of an economic plan that would help bolster the Palestinian economy" by attracting some $4 billion in private investment into the territories.

Abbas reiterated that both Palestinians and Arab nations would not abandon the right to establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

The president will update Palestinian officials on the details of the talks on Thursday, Abu Rudeina added.

Kerry is on his sixth visit to the region as he seeks to persuade the Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct negotiations frozen for almost three years.

Kerry was to outline his progress on the Middle East peace process later Wednesday when he meets a delegation from the Arab League.

His visit comes amid Israeli anger over new European Union guidelines barring the 28-member bloc from funding projects in illegal settlements.

A senior Israeli official said the EU move was likely to prove a stumbling block to Kerry's diplomatic efforts.

And indeed there are no immediate plans for Kerry to visit Israel and to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unlike previous trips to the region when he has shuttled back and forth between Amman and Jerusalem.

"Some in Europe seem to be determined to undermine this effort and to undermine the chance of returning to direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks," the Israeli official told AFP.

"Why would any Palestinian leader enter negotiations when they receive what they want without negotiation?"

The Palestinians are refusing to return to negotiations without a freeze on settlement activity and Israel's acceptance of the 1967 lines as the basis for final status negotiations. Israel says it wants talks but without "pre-conditions."

There was no announcement of any resumption of talks following the dinner between Kerry and Abbas but "they agreed to stay in close contact," the senior State Department official said.

The top US diplomat was also to discuss the upheaval in Egypt and the conflict in Syria with the Arab League leaders in Jordan. The Egyptian interim government was expected to send a representative.

Kerry is also mulling a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, which would make him the most senior member of the US administration to see first hand the tragedy of the conflict now in its third year.

Jordan is hosting some 550,000 refugees who have fled the fighting as Syrian President Bashar Assad aided by Hezbollah militants seeks to crush a rebellion against his rule.

It remained uncertain whether Kerry's visit to a camp would go ahead, due to security and logistical concerns. He is due to leave Jordan on Thursday.

Kerry was also to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Wednesday.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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