WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama meets Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday as they evaluate the fate of US-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which are close to collapse.
Kerry will also on Tuesday likely face questioning about his strategy in the Middle East at a hearing in Congress, which will also reveal deepening concern about what the United States regards as Russian interference in eastern Ukraine.
A visibly frustrated Kerry returned to Washington at the end of last week saying he needed to discuss with Obama whether to continue to invest large amounts of time and political capital in an effort being undermined by actions by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Senior officials have rejected the idea that Obama intends to pull the plug on the effort, and say he deeply appreciates his top diplomat's efforts.
But equally, Obama may need to be convinced that Kerry's intense focus on the initiative is merited given its apparently slim chance of success and deepening global crises crying out for US attention elsewhere.
"The issue now is whether the parties can demonstrate that they are willing to make the difficult decisions necessary to move the process forward," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"The parties understand what the choices are and they understand that these are not decisions that the United States or any other country can make.
"The parties themselves have to make them." Kerry will meet Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon after his cross examination on Capitol Hill.
The State Department said late Monday that efforts were still going on in the Middle East to save the talks.
"At the request of the parties, the US facilitated a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators this evening to continue the intensive effort to resolve their differences.
"Gaps remain but both sides are committed to narrow the gaps," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Officials in Jerusalem have refused to say where the talks are taking place.
Israel and the Palestinians are blaming each other for the impasse in talks which observers from all sides say are close to failure.
The Palestinians say that Israel reneged on a pledge to free a fourth and final batch of prisoners a week ago under a previous agreement.
Israel blames the Palestinians for scuppering the process with a move to request entry to 15 United Nations treaties in a bid for de facto recognition for their promised state.
Israel wants to extend the talks beyond an April 29 deadline but the Palestinians will only do so if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frees the prisoners and promises to stop settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
Kerry will testify on the State Department's budget before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a hearing that will allow critics of administration foreign policy towards both the Middle East and Russia a chance to vent.
The White House on Monday warned President Vladimir Putin to stop destabilizing Ukraine.
It said it had strong evidence that outsiders were being paid to take part in pro-Russia demonstrations in eastern Ukrainian cities.
And it said it was prepared to impose sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy if Moscow made any move onto eastern Ukraine following its annexation of Crimea.