Mideast peace talks begin anew with Secretary Kerry in the driver’s seat

Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said negotiators for the Israelis and the Palestinians have committed to formal peace talks.

The two sides have agreed to put all the core issues on the table and will meet again within two weeks, Kerry announced during a joint press conference with the top Israeli and Palestinian negotiators following a morning meeting with President Obama at the White House.

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“Our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months,” Kerry said.

“There are many reasons why we need to solve this conflict, but none more important than the security and dignity of the next generations of Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. “We cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending the conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time.”

Obama has made renewing the peace talks, frozen since 2010, a priority of his second term. Kerry has traveled to the region six times since taking over as secretary of State six months ago.

Tuesday’s White House meeting included Kerry, Vice President Biden, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, special envoy Martin Indyk and National Security Council coordinator Philip Gordon.

“The president used this opportunity to convey his appreciation to both sides for the leadership and courage they have shown in coming to the table, and to directly express his personal support for final-status negotiation,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “He underscored that there is much to do in the days and months ahead.”

The two parties expressed optimism after a preliminary round of talks Tuesday morning.

“No one benefits more from the success of this endeavor more than the Palestinians,” said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “I’m delighted that all final status issues are on the table and will be resolved without any exceptions. It’s time for the Palestinian people to have an independent, sovereign state of their own.”

The core issues include the borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, the rights of Palestinian refugees and security issues.

“History is not made by cynics; it is made by realists who are not afraid to dream,” said Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. “Let us be those people.”

Kerry said the two parties have already found “common ground.”

He said the administration is already working with the Palestinians to improve security and economic conditions to ease the path to peace.

And he said Israel has agreed to take a “number of steps” over the coming weeks to improve conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.

He added that all the parties have agreed to keep the content of negotiations confidential. Many details of the talks have been reported first by Israeli media, including the choice of Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel, to serve as the administration’s point person for the talks.

“The only announcement you will hear about meetings is the one that I just made,” Kerry said. “And I will be the only one, by agreement, authorized to comment publicly on the talks.

“That means that no one should consider any reports, articles or even rumors reliable unless they come directly from me. And I assure you they won’t.”