US says not seeking interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deal

Washington, Dec 10: US Secretary of State John Kerry will return to the Middle East this week to push for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but Washington is not seeking an interim deal, the State Department said Monday.

The top American envoy will leave for Jerusalem Wednesday to talk about Iran and the ongoing final-status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Xinhua quoted spokesperson Jennifer Psaki as saying in a statement.

He then travels to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process, which he said was “closer” to a peace deal than in years when he wrapped up his eighth visit to the region Friday.

“This is an important time in the negotiations and he felt it was important to return to the region,” Psaki said. “This is an issue, as you all know, that he’s been deeply engaged in.”

“Just to be absolutely clear, we are not focused on an interim deal, we are focused on a final deal,” she said in response to reports about the Obama administration seeking an interim framework as a prelude to a full agreement.

“We’re all focused on a final status agreement,” she added. “That is what both sides are discussing and both sides remain committed to and there should not be any confusion about what a framework reference is.”

President Barack Obama and Kerry both used the term “framework” Saturday when they spoke at the Saban Forum, an annual event organised by the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

“It is essential, in my judgment, to reach for a full agreement and to have a framework within which we can try to work for that,” Kerry said at the forum.

During his Mideast trip last week, Kerry focused on Israel’s security concerns. His proposals, presented to Netanyahu and Abbas Thursday, were welcomed by Israel but rejected by the Palestinians on the grounds that they would only lead to Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories.

In his address to the UN General Assembly in September, Obama cited Iran’s nuclear programme and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as his two near-term goals in foreign policy.

The talks were resumed in late July with a view to reaching an agreement on the final-status issues — security, border, the status of Jerusalem and refugees — by the end of April next year. Kerry had pressed the two sides to go beyond the nine-month timeframe in their talks during his last trip.

“Nine months has never been the deadline,” Psaki said. “Nine months has been what both sides committed to remain engaged through tough and difficult ups and downs that we fully expected through the process.”

The spokesperson said Kerry met in Washington with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman over the weekend as well as chief negotiators from the two sides Monday.

The upcoming overseas trip, which will run from Dec 11 through Dec 18, will also take Kerry to Vietnam and the Philippines.

IANS