Last updated: 19 February, 2014

Kerry discusses Middle East peace in Paris talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry met Wednesday with his Jordanian counterpart for talks focusing on the Middle East peace process and the Syrian conflict.

The two men met in Kerry’s hotel in Paris, just ahead of talks between the top US diplomat and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

“We are at an important point in the negotiations where we are engaged with narrowing the gaps between the parties on a framework for negotiations,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“It was an appropriate time to spend a few hours meeting with president Abbas to talk about the core issues.”

Kerry, who coaxed the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table in July after a three-year hiatus, is trying to agree a framework to guide the talks in the coming months, as a late April deadline for the negotiations looms.

US officials insist they are making progress on drawing up the framework, which is due to set out parameters and goals of the negotiations.

However, Israelis and Palestinians have publicly traded accusations that the other side is not serious about peace, and Kerry himself has been the target of bitter criticism as he has sought to wrest major compromises out of both sides.

Israeli army radio Wednesday reported that Washington was to demand that Israel implement a partial settlement freeze after Kerry presents his framework.

Quoting US negotiators involved in the talks, the radio said the United States was hoping to obtain a freeze on construction in isolated settlements outside the major West Bank blocs, which Israel hopes to retain in any peace deal.

A settlement bloc is an area where clusters of settlements have been established in relatively close proximity to one another, in which the majority of the West Bank’s 367,000 settlers currently live.

Meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh before his talks with Abbas, Kerry acknowledged Amman’s special role in the region saying “we are listening very carefully to our friends in Jordan regarding the Middle East peace process”.

Judeh replied that “Jordan is a stakeholder, not just a mediator or observer”.

“All final status issues touch the very heart of Jordanian interests and national security. And therefore we are as interested as anyone out there in having this resolved in a fruitful outcome,” he added.

The two men were also to discuss the conflict in Syria, where three years of war have driven some 600,000 refugees into Jordan, and created a further 700,000 economic migrants, Judeh said.

“We want an end to the refugee crisis, an end to the problem in Syria and we’re working hard to find ways forward on that,” Kerry insisted.