TEL AVIV, Israel -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry completed a new round of shuttle diplomacy Sunday without a hoped-for breakthrough in relaunching Mideast peace talks, but optimistically said he had narrowed the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians and vowed to return to the region soon to complete his mission.
Kerry said he was working on an emerging "package" meant to bring the sides together, and said he would leave a team of aides in the region to continue the efforts.
"With a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach," he told reporters, shortly before leaving Israel for an Asian security conference in Brunei.
It was not clear how much progress Kerry had truly made. He refused to provide details of the package he is working on, and Israeli and Palestinian officials, at Kerry's request, remained mum. Even before negotiations begin, the gaps remain wide on simply establishing the ground rules. Negotiations have been stalled since 2008, in large part due to Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Kerry was on his fifth visit to the region since taking office early this year. Starting Thursday night, he shuttled between Amman, Jordan, Jerusalem and Ramallah, West Bank, holding three meetings each with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel's Netanyahu.
Kerry said it was best not to float ideas for others to "tear apart, evaluate and analyze." He said he would not have agreed to leave his staff in place if he didn't think it was possible to flesh out a "serious" framework for restarting discussions.
"I think this is worth it, folks," he told reporters. "Obviously, the work has to be completed. People have to make a few choices still. But the gap has been narrowed very significantly."