Kerry set for more ‘shuttle diplomacy’

Secretary of State heading back to Mideast as U.S. insists full Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is still on the agenda

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Secretary of State John Kerry heads back to Israel this week, a U.S. official said Monday, insisting the diplomat was working for a full, not an interim, Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy will see him leave for Israel on Wednesday – five days after he landed back from Jerusalem.

“This is an important time in the negotiations, and he felt it was important to return to the region,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, adding Kerry would spend two days in Israel and Ramallah for talks, Agence France-Presse reported.

The spokesperson, however, denied reports that Kerry and the U.S. administration he represents were seeking an interim framework ahead of a full accord.

“Just to be absolutely clear, we are not focused on an interim deal, we are focused on a final deal,” Psaki told reporters.

All sides remain “committed to a nine-month timeframe,” added Psaki. The timeframe was set out earlier this year when Kerry succeeded in bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table after a three-year stalemate.

Psaki refused however to lay out “all the steps that could be possible to get to a final status agreement, and I’m not going to lay out what the options are.”

Kerry also met earlier Monday in Washington with his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat.

Wednesday’s trip will be Kerry’s ninth overnight stay in Israel since becoming secretary of state in February. It will be the first leg of a trip that is set to include visits to Vietnam and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official warned on Monday that Kerry’s proposals on security will lead to the “total failure” of the struggling peace talks with Israel.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said Kerry’s ideas on the future configuration of security arrangements which were presented to the Palestinian leadership last week, had provoked a “real crisis.”

The proposals focus on security arrangements in the Jordan Valley which runs down the eastern flank of the West Bank, with commentators saying it would allow Israel to maintain a long-term military presence there, AFP reported.

The U.S. suggestions reportedly garnered a positive reaction from the Israelis, but were sharply dismissed by the Palestinians as “very bad ideas, which we cannot accept.”

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