Mideast peace talks at 'pivotal' juncture, Kerry tells Abbas

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Top US diplomat John Kerry urged Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Sunday to work hard to narrow huge differences with the Israelis at a "pivotal" time for peace talks.

Palestinian and Israeli leaders have been locked in talks the US secretary of state fought hard to launch in July after a three-year hiatus, but as negotiations have faltered, Israel has kicked up more obstacles to a peace deal that would end decades of conflict.

A senior State Department official said Kerry held a "frank and productive discussion" with Abbas ahead of the Palestinian leader's talks with President Barack Obama in the White House Oval Office on Monday.

"The secretary thanked President Abbas for his steadfast leadership and partnership over the past few months and encouraged him to make the tough decisions that will be necessary in the weeks ahead," the official added.

"He also reiterated that we are at a pivotal time in the negotiations and while these issues have decades of history behind them, neither party should let tough political decisions at this stage stand in the way of a lasting peace."

Just two weeks ago, Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that tough decisions are looming ahead of an April 29 deadline to agree on a US-proposed framework to guide final status negotiations.

However, a recent Israeli demand - that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state - is endangering the talks, and Kerry came out strongly against Netanyahu's emphasis on it ahead of Abbas's US visit.

The official said Kerry and his negotiating team would continue to work with both sides to "narrow the gaps" over the coming days.

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