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John Kerry brings Israelis, Palestinians step closer to peace talks

AMMAN, Jordan -- After a rush of last-minute talks with Palestinian officials, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sealed a step toward relaunching the long-halted Mideast peace process, announcing Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on a basis for returning to negotiations.

The statement, which came in a news conference after a day in which Kerry shuttled between the Jordanian capital and the West Bank, reflected how painstakingly incremental movement in the process is. While it appeared deep differences over the groundwork of talks had been bridged, the two sides are to meet -- likely in the coming week -- to work out final details on actually resuming their negotiations on the toughest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Up to the last minute, the Palestinians had been reluctant to sign on to Kerry's formula for returning to the table with the Israelis, five years after talks broke down.

Late Thursday, the Palestinian leadership said it was sticking by its demand that any negotiations on final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state be based on the cease-fire line that held from 1949 until the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Israel rejects preconditions on the talks.

Kerry told reporters, "We have reached an agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis." He added, "This is a significant and welcome step forward."

Still, he said "the agreement is still in the process of being formalized."

Kerry would not give details on the agreement or the negotiations' basis.

"The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private," he said. "We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful."

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