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Kerry cancels Middle East visit as U.S.-led peace negotiations hit new hurdle

April 1, 2014 at 6:40 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The fate of U.S.-led peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians hit new hurdles today, and the very future of the talks might be in jeopardy.

Secretary of State John Kerry had been all set to resume his Middle East shuttle diplomacy amid talk of possible progress. Then came word from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he’s resuming a campaign for United Nations recognition.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian National Authority (through interpreter): We will apply to 15 agencies and conventions immediately.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Abbas blamed Israel for stalling an agreed-upon release of Palestinian prisoners. The last of 104 prisoners were to have been freed in March.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS (through interpreter): We have been promised nine times that the fourth batch of prisoners would be released. This afternoon was the latest promise that the Israeli government would be convening to approve that. This didn’t happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With that, Kerry canceled a return visit to the region scheduled for tomorrow. He spoke at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: This is a moment to be really clear-eyed and sober about this process. It’s difficult. It’s emotional. All I can tell you is that we are continuing even now as I’m standing up here speaking to be engaged with both parties to find the best way forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Earlier, it had been widely reported the U.S. was working to win the release of those Palestinian prisoners. The prospective agreement didn’t include a freeze on Israeli settlement expansion, long a demand of the U.S. and Palestinians. Instead, it reportedly involved the possible release from prison of American Jonathan Pollard.

The U.S. Navy intelligence analyst was convicted of spying for Israel almost 30 years ago, and is still serving a life sentence. Successive Israeli governments have echoed strong public sentiment there in asking for his release.

Pollard was interviewed by Israeli television in 1998, after Israel acknowledged he had been spying, and granted him citizenship.

JONATHAN POLLARD, Former U.S. Intelligence Agent: For Israel to have admitted that I was an agent was a precondition for an equitable resolution of my affair.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Pollard waived a parole hearing scheduled for today, according to prison officials, as diplomatic wrangling continued.

Earlier, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama had made no decision to release Pollard. But he didn’t rule it out.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: The need for and benefits of a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a peace that provides the Palestinians with their own state and provides security to a democratic Jewish state of Israel, transcend this issue and many others that are part of the discussions that we have.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Kerry had hoped to have a framework peace agreement by the end of this month. Now, if a deal can be salvaged, it might simply ensure that peace talks continue into next year.

Note: Due to web rights restrictions, we were unable to publish part of the original broadcast report.