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Obama Throws Support Behind Mideast Peace Talks

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has thrown his full support behind the resumption of negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials, a process Secretary of State John Kerry has been pushing since he began his post at the beginning of the year.

“I am pleased that Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and President [Mahmoud] Abbas have accepted Secretary Kerry’s invitation to formally resume direct final status negotiations and have sent senior negotiating teams to Washington for the first round of meetings,” the president said in a statement.  “This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead.”

Kerry announced Monday that former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk will serve as the new special envoy for Mideast peace and act as America’s chief negotiator in the talks, which will happen over the next two days.

Kerry praised the veteran ambassador, who served under both Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright in the Clinton administration, saying that both sides trusted him.

“Ambassador Indyk is realistic.  He understands that Israeli-Palestinian peace will not come easily and it will not happen overnight,” he said. “But he also understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency.”

The State Department announced that negotiating teams from Israel and the Palestinian Authority led by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh will meet with Kerry over the next two days.

Following a meeting with Kerry on Monday evening, the group will meet again on Tuesday morning.

The talks taking place are considered preliminary to final status negotiations, but are seen as a breakthrough in the Mideast peace process. Israelis and Palestinians have not sat down for direct negotiations in three years.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed that the parties are working on at least a nine month timetable.

“They have all agreed to focus on having talks not just for the sake of talks, but this is the beginning of direct final status negotiations,” said Psaki.

Among the most contentious issues are the status of Jerusalem, the expansion of Israeli settlements, and a return to 1967 borders when carving out a new Palestinian State.

Obama acknowledged that the most difficult work of the negotiations is still to come, but said he’s hopeful that the talks will go forward in good faith.

“The United States stands ready to support them throughout these negotiations, with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security,” he said.

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