JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rushed to the Middle East on Monday for a surprise visit aimed at rescuing his Mideast diplomatic efforts, as peace talks approached a critical make-or-break point.
The State Department said Kerry was flying from Paris to Tel Aviv for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders that may be held in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Kerry has been working frantically in recent days trying to salvage the embattled peace process. A senior U.S. official said Kerry spoke with Israeli and Palestinian leaders all morning from Paris, as well as with the White House, before deciding to go back to the region.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
American mediators have been holding urgent talks to resolve a standoff over a promised Israeli prisoner release, and to find a formula to extend the talks beyond a current late-April deadline. If the prisoner release, which was scheduled to happen by the end of March, does not take place, the negotiations risk collapse in the coming weeks.
The Palestinian leadership set a meeting to discuss developments Monday evening in the West Bank city of Ramallah. There was no immediate comment from the office of Israel's prime minister.
Under heavy pressure from Kerry, Israel and the Palestinians agreed last July to hold nine months of peace talks, setting a late-April deadline for a final agreement. When that became unrealistic, Kerry scaled back his goals and said he would aim for a preliminary "framework" agreement by April, with the goal of continuing negotiations through the end of the year to iron out the final details of a deal.
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