Kerry seeks to allay fears on Mideast deal

Kerry seeks to allay fears on Mideast deal
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas talk before a meeting at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 3, 2014.

JERUSALEM - US Secretary of State John Kerry held intense talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Friday, seeking to overcome their concerns about a framework to guide negotiations towards a peace deal.

American officials have privately said they believe the direct talks, resumed in July after a three-year hiatus, have reached a new phase as a late April deadline for an accord looms, but are struggling to overcome fierce opposition from both sides.

They said it was unlikely that agreement on a framework accord would be reached this week, conceding it would take more time.

Kerry met with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas late Friday and was due to meet him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again on Saturday for their third round of talks in as many days.

Veteran US Senator John McCain, who is also visiting Israel with a congressional delegation, said Netanyahu had Friday voiced deep concerns in separate "detailed" discussions about the proposals being put forward by Kerry.

"Netanyahu has serious, serious concerns about the plan as has been presented to him, whether it be on the ability of Israel to defend its borders or the reliability of a Palestinian state and their intentions," McCain said in Jerusalem.

Israelis were also particularly concerned about "their overall security, whether it be boundaries, whether it be areas under Palestinian control," he added.

After three hours of talks Friday with Netanyahu following an eight-hour discussion and dinner on Thursday, Kerry travelled to the West Bank to meet with Abbas.

Top Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo was Thursday unenthusiastic about the proposed framework agreement, saying it "limits Palestinian sovereignty" on the West Bank.

But when Kerry was asked if he was gaining any traction in the talks as he met with Abbas in his Ramallah headquarters, he replied: "Every day (is) progress."

Netanyahu on Thursday had been pessimistic, launching a scathing attack on Abbas.

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