Mideast peace talks were not in vain, Kerry says


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses a news conference during his official visit to Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)

Speaking publicly for the first time about the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Thursday that the United States will take a “hard look” at what to do next.

Kerry acknowledged that nine months of face-to-face talks had failed to produce the outline deal he had sought, or any visible progress. The effort he began under heavy pressure last summer marked the most intensive U.S. involvement in peacemaking in many years.

During a diplomatic trip to Africa, Kerry said the Middle East peace talks are on a hiatus, but he would not declare them dead.

“Both parties still indicate that they feel it’s important to negotiate and want to find a way to negotiate,” Kerry said. “We believe the best thing to do right now is pause, take a hard look at these things, and find out what is possible and what is not possible in the days ahead.”

He did not directly answer a question about whether the United States might now put its own, comprehensive peace plan on the table. During the recent talks, U.S. Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk proposed several ideas to solve some of the most difficult issues, but he is not thought to have offered a complete U.S. plan.

“I personally remain convinced that as each [side] sort of works through the reasons that things began to become more difficult in the final hours, there may be quiet ways within which to begin to work on next steps,” Kerry said.

Israel suspended the talks a week ago, days ahead of Kerry’s April 29 deadline. He had set the date to maintain pressure on both sides, but it had slipped long before the talks collapsed. Kerry said a surprise Palestinian announcement that the militant faction Hamas would join a unity government with the moderate Fatah faction, which was leading the discussions with Israel, was the last straw.

Kerry insisted that the talks produced tangible progress, which he said he would detail “at some appropriate moment.” He announced no schedule for any renewed U.S. effort.

“It’s time for a pause. But it’s also time to be reflective about the ways in which one might be able to find common ground even out of these difficulties,” Kerry said.

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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