(WASHINGTON) -- Israeli and Palestinian leaders attended a Ramadan dinner at the State Department Monday night and began a new round of peace negotiations -- their first face-to-face talks in three years.
Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the iftar dinner and welcomed the negotiators, saying, “It's really wonderful to have you here.” The iftar is the traditional meal that ends a day of fasting for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.
Kerry infused a bit of humor into his welcome, telling his guests, “We have obviously not very much to talk about at all.”
Two Israeli and two Palestinian officials sat with five U.S. officials and discussed procedural issues for the talks, including where they will meet and what their agenda will be in the coming months.
A senior State Department official said afterward that it was “a constructive and productive meeting between the parties.”
Talks continue Tuesday morning.
The talks have been stalled since 2010. The major sticking points remain the status of Jerusalem and the building of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
U.S. officials are pressing the two sides to come up with an agreement in nine months.
Earlier in the day, President Obama, in a statement, welcomed the talks as “a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead.”
The president said, “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 and with sustained focus and determination. 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."
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