Kerry Sees Progress, Rejects Interim Agreement

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -

Secretary of State John Kerry warned Thursday of a return to violence if faltering peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ultimately fail. He also rejected suggestions that he scale back his ambition to forge a final settlement with an interim agreement and said he still believed it could be done by an April 2014 target date.

“What is the alternative to peace?” Kerry asked at a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. “Prolonged continued conflict. The absence of peace really means you have a sort of low-grade conflict, war.”

Kerry appealed for Israelis and Palestinians to take the peace process seriously and for their leaders to overcome differences that have hamstrung the talks since they began three months ago with the goal of reaching a deal by the end of April, 2014. He acknowledged the hurdles, but said he was convinced that both Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were committed to the negotiations

“I am pleased to say that despite difficulties, and we all understand what they are, these discussions have been productive,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, Kerry told Jordan’s King Abdullah II that his meetings had “created some clarity on some of the points.” He did not elaborate but said at the news conference with Judeh that there was “significant progress in our discussions about a couple of areas of concern in the panorama of concerns that exist.”

Kerry will see Abbas again Thursday night in Amman and then return to Yerushalayim on Friday for a third meeting with Netanyahu in two days, before continuing with his swing through the Middle East and North Africa, visiting the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.

Kerry rejected the idea of an interim agreement, saying it had been tried before and didn’t work.

“An interim agreement only if it embraces the concept of a final status might be a step on the way, but you cannot just do an interim agreement and pretend you are dealing with the problem,” he said.

“We’ve been there before. We’ve had interim agreements, we’ve had road maps. But if you leave the main issues hanging out there, mischief-makers will make the most of that and bad things will happen in the interval that then make it even harder to get to the final status.

“It is imperative that we keep final status and settle this before it can’t be settled because events on the ground or other events interfere with that possibility.”