US urges 'compromise' as Mideast talks set to resume

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Monday urged Israelis and Palestinians to work in good faith and make "reasonable compromises" ahead of the first direct talks in three years chasing a long-elusive peace deal.

In a bid to shepherd months of tough negotiations that lie ahead, US Secretary of State John Kerry named seasoned diplomat, Martin Indyk, to be the US special envoy to the talks.

And President Barack Obama welcomed the imminent start of the talks, urging both sides to approach them with honesty.

"The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead, and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith," Mr Obama said.

The United States was ready to support both sides "with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security," Mr Obama added.

Speaking just hours before the first face-to-face public meeting since September 2010, Mr Kerry again praised the courage shown by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in agreeing to return to the negotiating table.

"Many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues," he said.

"I think reasonable compromises has to be a keystone of all of this effort.

"I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse."

Mr Indyk, 62, who has twice served as US ambassador to Israel and participated in the failed Camp David summit under then president Bill Clinton, said he was taking on "a daunting and humbling" challenge.

But he insisted: "It has been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible."

The dream of a Middle East peace deal has for decades been a chimera chased by US presidents but has stalled since September 2010, shot down by deep divisions and distrust between the two sides.

Israel and the Palestinians remain deeply divided over so called "final status issues" - including the fate of Jerusalem claimed by both as a capital, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the exact borders of a future Palestinian state which has been complicated by the spread of Jewish settlements across the West Bank.