Kerry pledges $75M more for Palestinians

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday pledged another $75 million to help Palestinians build roads and schools as an incentive to pursue peace talks with Israel.

Kerry announced the aid during a stop in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Wednesday's announcement brings the total U.S. contribution to the Palestinian Authority’s High Impact Micro-Infrastructure Initiative program to $100 million.

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"HIMII projects will create jobs and fund infrastructure projects throughout the West Bank including the construction and repair of health clinics, roads, water systems, community centers, and schools," the State Department said in a press statement. "The HIMII is designed to show tangible benefits to the lives of Palestinians as negotiations advance and lay the groundwork for further economic growth."

Kerry's visit comes as peace talks that he helped kickstart three months ago are already faltering amid Palestinian complaints that Israel is still pushing forward with settlement construction in the occupied territories. President Obama has given Kerry nine months to try to strike a deal.

“There are always difficulties, always tensions,” Kerry told reporters before meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. “I’m very confident of our ability to work through them. That’s why I’m here.”

Despite Kerry's push for a two-state solution that has evaded U.S. administrations, his talks in Israel are expected to be dominated by Iran's nuclear program. Negotiators from the United States and five other countries meet with their Iranian counterparts starting Thursday for another round of negotiations.

“We have two big items on our agenda every time we meet, and this time again,” Netanyahu said at the press conference with Kerry. “The first is Iran.”

The Israeli leader said protesters chanting “Death to America” this week on the 34th anniversary of the fall of the U.S. embassy in Tehran were the “true face of this regime.” And he reiterated his demands for a “full, peaceful, complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, end of all enrichment, end of all centrifuges, end of the plutonium reactor.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney by contrast said Monday that the “vast majority” of Iranians want better relations with the United States. And U.S. negotiators are pursuing a deal with Iran that could result in some sanctions being lifted in exchange for concessions that may allow Iran to retain some limited enrichment capability.

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