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Mideast talks: Optimism, but little progress

JERUSALEM -- The United States and Israel raised hopes yesterday for a restart of the Middle East peace process, despite little tangible progress so far from Secretary of State John Kerry's two-month effort to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

As they met in Jerusalem, Kerry praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the "seriousness" with which he is looking at ways to revitalize peace hopes. Kerry expressed optimism without outlining any concrete strategy for ending a stalemate between the two sides that has seen them hardly negotiate one-on-one at all over the past 4 1/2 years.

"I know this region well enough to know there is skepticism, in some quarters there is cynicism and there are reasons for it," Kerry told reporters. "It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient -- but detailed and tenacious -- that we can lay on a path ahead that can conceivably surprise people and certainly exhaust the possibilities of peace," said Kerry, who met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later yesterday in Ramallah.

Netanyahu said his conversation with the top American diplomat would touch on mutual concerns about Iran and Syria. "But above all," he said, "what we want to do is restart the peace talks with the Palestinians."

The visit, Kerry's fourth trip to the Jewish state since becoming secretary of state in February, coincides with deepening pessimism from Palestinian officials about the new peace push. They are planning to resume their campaign of seeking membership in key international organizations as early as next month in a bid to put pressure on Israel into offering some concessions.

Kerry brought "nothing new" to his discussions with Abbas, said one Palestinian official familiar with the talks. The official said Palestinian expectations remain low because they see Kerry "trying to accommodate the Israelis, not pressure the Israelis."

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