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John Kerry optimistic about Mideast peace talks

Aims to promote development in West Bank

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in London after three days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/POOL

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in London after three days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

JERUSALEM — Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that an initiative to promote economic development in the West Bank to support renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts will aim to create jobs and economic security and “begin to take hold immediately.”

He said that more details will be forthcoming next week and corporate entities will be involved. He emphasized that business expansion in the West Bank is no substitute for the political track, but can enhance it.

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Kerry made the remarks at a press conference at Ben-Gurion Airport as he completed three days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials. There was still no indication that a formula had been found to break the impasse, which has lasted years, in the peace process, but Kerry said that the sides had committed to continue “intensive discussions.”

The next stop was London, where Kerry said he will meet with the Syrian opposition and attend a summit of the Group of 8 foreign ministers. A senior State Department official said the meeting with Syrian opposition figures will take place Wednesday. The list of attendees was yet to be finalized.

This comes as the Obama administration ponders whether to provide more assistance to help the opposition in its fight against the government of Syria’s president, Bashar Assad.

“We will be discussing various means of having an impact on President Assad’s calculations about where the battlefield is going,” Kerry said. The preference is for a diplomatic solution, but such a course was impossible if Assad is unwilling to transfer authority, he said.

Touching on another regional issue, Kerry said the administration is hoping for more fulsome curbs on Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the last round of talks between Iran and six world powers in Kazakhstan.

He said that an announcement by Iran on Tuesday that it was starting production at two uranium mines and a plant that makes yellow cake, a semi-refined form of uranium, was provocative and raised questions, and that the negotiations could not be open-ended.

Earlier, in Jerusalem, Kerry had said that all options remained regarding Iran and that “President Obama doesn’t bluff; he’s made that very clear to me. And we hope the Iranians will come back to the table with a very serious proposal.”

Still, the focus of Kerry’s trip to Israel and the West Bank is on finding a way to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“It’s been serious, it’s been focused, and I would characterize it as very productive,” Kerry said before a final meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Tuesday.

Netanyahu said he was “determined to not only resume the peace process with the Palestinians but to make a serious effort to end this conflict.”

These were talks about how to resume talks after a hiatus of years, and a breakthrough did not appear imminent.

“I think we are at the pre-breakthrough stage,” a senior Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Referring to reports in the Israeli and Palestinian news media of possible gestures to the Palestinians beyond economic incentives, such as transferring more West Bank land to Palestinian control, he added, “We are looking at different confidence-building measures and some seem more doable than others.”

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