WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sat down Monday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas looking to ease the logjam to elusive Mideast peace talks, acknowledging that with a deadline fast approaching, the task ahead is “very hard, it’s very challenging.”
“We’re going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we’re to move it forward,” Obama said at the start of his Oval Office meeting with the Palestinian leader. “My hope is that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks.”
Obama said everyone understands what the contours of a peace deal look like — territory based on lands prior to their Israeli capture in 1967, with “mutually agreed upon swaps,” that ensure the security of Israel and a sovereign state for Palestinians.
Obama held a similar meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago in which he urged Israel to make the “tough decisions” needed to move forward.
Obama praised Abbas as a leader who “has consistently renounced violence, has consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states, side by side in peace and security — a state that allows for the dignity and sovereignty of the Palestinian people and a state that allows for Israelis to feel secure and at peace with their neighbors.”
Abbas, for his part, made special note of an agreement brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry for Israel to release a fourth round of prisoners.
“We are hopeful that the fourth batch will be released by the 29th of March because this would give a very solid impression” about taking steps toward peace, he said.
JIM KUHNHENN AND JOSH LEDERMAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS