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Associated Press
President Barack Obama listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a White House meeting Monday. Obama appealed to Netanyahu to move forward on Mideast peace talks.

Obama prods Israel on talks

Urges Netanyahu to advance US-brokered framework

– Fearful that time is running out, President Barack Obama pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to accept a U.S.-sponsored framework for final peace talks with the Palestinians, but he acknowledged that both sides would have to make “tough decisions” to reach a compromise.

Obama made a personal appeal to Netanyahu at the White House, offering reassurance that the United States is committed to ensuring Iran does not acquire nuclear arms and signaling that his administration sees the chances for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as rapidly narrowing.

“Tough decisions will have to be made,” Obama told reporters ahead of the Oval Office meeting. “It is still possible to create two states, but it is difficult and requires compromise from both sides.”

The White House thinks this month is a critical moment to advance the peace talks brokered since last summer by Secretary of State John Kerry, and Obama’s personal involvement has upped the stakes ahead of a U.S.-imposed April deadline. Obama will play host to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on March 17.

The negotiations are fraught with complexity, however, as Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasized his frustration with U.S.-led talks with Iran over its nuclear program and the administration’s policies toward Syria.

At the White House, Netanyahu vowed that his government would not stand by and allow Iran to develop an atomic weapon that would bring Israel “again to the brink of destruction. I … will do whatever I must do to defend the Jewish state.”

On the peace talks, he said, “Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians have not. What we want is peace. Not a piece of paper, but real peace.

“Mr. President, I think it is about time for the Palestinian people to recognize a state for the Jewish people. In the Middle East, the only peace that can endure is the peace we can defend.

“The people of Israel expect me to stay strong.”

Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed in July after a three-year hiatus. Kerry has devoted much of his first year as secretary of state to resuming talks and keeping them going, having made 11 trips to the region.

But Israeli leaders were angered by recent remarks from Kerry that he fears Israel would face deepening isolation and boycotts from the international community if the peace talks collapse.

Obama reiterated those fears last week in an interview and said he planned to emphasize to Netanyahu that this could represent Israel’s last chance for a lasting deal.

“When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation,” Obama said in the interview, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?”

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