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US urges Mideast peace talks

– Secretary of State John Kerry worked Monday to build support for new Arab-Israeli peace talks that would establish an independent Palestinian state and settle many other old grievances in the Middle East.

The Obama administration hopes to prod Israel and the Palestinians to return to talks, and to use a comprehensive regional peace plan written a decade ago by Arab leaders as a template, U.S. and other officials said.

Israel has never agreed to the Arab League plan, and several of the countries that once signed it are now under new leadership. Putting it back on the table is meant to galvanize Arab support and draw in Muslim partner Turkey, but it is not clear how much of the original document could be a basis for new talks.

“Kerry asked us to change a few words in the Arab Peace Initiative, but we refused,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Voice of Palestine radio station Sunday.

Kerry is trying to jump-start talks after a lull lasting most of the past four years. This is his third trip to the region in as many weeks.

The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative would exchange a comprehensive peace and a renunciation of further Arab land claims for an Israeli withdrawal from land it captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

It is widely assumed that the plan’s call for a return to the region’s 1967 borders would have to be modified to account for Israeli settlements close to the old line. Israel would presumably trade other land for that West Bank territory, in what past peace negotiators have called “agreed swaps.”

Kerry told reporters Monday that he and President Obama see a window for restarting a peace effort but have no illusions about the difficulties of trying.

“Time is running out on this possibility,” Kerry said.

Both he and Obama “think it would be irresponsible not to explore thoroughly the possibilities for moving forward,” he said.

Kerry said he is taking a deliberate, step-by-step approach of consulting with all sides, but he would not give details of anything he is asking Israel or the Palestinians to do. He said he will not be ruled by artificial deadlines, something some past negotiations have tried to impose.

“Both sides have mistrust,” he said. “I am convinced we can break that down.”