Obama acknowledges need for a ‘pause’ in talks

US president calls Fatah-Hamas reconciliation pact ‘unhelpful,’ but insists US hasn’t given up pursuit of peace deal

US President Barack Obama reacts to a question during a press conference at the Blue House in Seoul on Friday, April 25, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Jim Watson)
US President Barack Obama reacts to a question during a press conference at the Blue House in Seoul on Friday, April 25, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Jim Watson)

In an indication that Washington was taking a step back from Middle East peacemaking, US President Barack Obama on Friday acknowledged that Israel and the Palestinians needed a “pause” in talks.

“There comes a point at which there just needs to be a pause and both sides need to look at the alternatives,” he said during a news conference in Seoul with South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye.

Still, he said that recent setbacks would not cause the US to give up on Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace push. One of those setbacks, he indicated, was a unity deal between Palestinian Authority President Mahmous Abbas and the Hamas movement, whose announcement prompted Israel to suspend the talks on Thursday.

“The fact that recently President Abbas took the unhelpful step of rejoining talks with Hamas is just one of a series of choices that both Israel and the Palestinians have made which are not conducive to solving this crisis,” Obama said.

The president hinted that his administration may expend less energy on the talks than in recent months, but did not rule out a return to Middle East peacemaking entirely.

“Realistically, there is one door and that is the two parties getting together to make some very difficult compromises,” Obama said.

“We will continue to encourage them to walk through that door. Do I expect they will walk through that door, next week, next month or even in the course of the next six months? No.”

Kerry on Thursday urged Israel and the Palestinians to make the compromises needed to forge ahead with peace talks, although he admitted that the negotiations had reached “a difficult point.

“There’s always a way forward, but the leaders have to make the compromises to do that. We may see a way forward, but if they’re not willing to make the compromises necessary it becomes very elusive,” he told reporters.

“We will never give up our hope or our commitment for the possibilities of peace. We believe it is the only way to go, but right now obviously it’s at a very difficult point, and the leaders themselves have to make decisions,” Kerry said as he met his Norwegian counterpart Foreign Minister Borge Brende.

“It’s up to them,” he added.

The two sides had agreed to resume negotiations in July and to keep talking for at least nine months. But with the clock ticking down to Tuesday’s deadline, the US-backed talks appear to have hit a brick wall.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it has “always been up to the parties to make the choices needed to pursue a path to peace.”

But she refused to declare the negotiations over, saying “this process needs to work its way through,” recalling that “there have been ups and downs” throughout.

AP contributed to this report.

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