UNITED NATIONS Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to intensify their peace talks and to increase the U.S. role, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday in a rare comment on the negotiations.
Speaking to donors who support the Palestinian Authority, Kerry said the two sides have met seven times since the talks resumed on July 29 although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have not met.
"We have agreed now, in the last week, when I have met with both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, we have agreed now to intensify these talks," he said. "And we have agreed that the American participation should be increased somewhat in order to try to help facilitate."
Kerry described two tracks to the talks: one among the negotiators - Israel's Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho and the Palestinians Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh - and another among Abbas, Netanyahu, Kerry and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Speaking of the second track, Kerry said: "As we think appropriate, as we need to move the process, we will be consulting among each other and working to move this process forward."
A U.S. official played down the idea of U.S. President Barack Obama increasing his role for now, although Obama had described the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, along with trying to curb Iran's nuclear program, as two top diplomatic priorities in his speech at U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.
The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the increase in U.S. engagement during the short term was likely to take the form of lower-level U.S. officials taking part in the Israeli-Palestinian meetings more frequently.
Kerry's comments offered a rare glimpse at the talks, which the United States initiated but has tried to keep under wraps on the argument that public discussion makes it harder to reach an agreement to end the more than six-decade conflict.
Abbas told Obama in a meeting on Tuesday on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly that the Palestinians will exert every effort possible to try to ensure the peace talks are a success.
Obama, as well as Kerry, are due to meet Netanyahu next week in Washington as they try to keep up the momentum in the negotiations.
The key issues to be resolved include borders, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Christopher Wilson, Eric Beech and Cynthia Osterman)