West Asia indirect talks begin

“I hope the beginning of what is referred to as indirect or proximity talks, I hope it is a vehicle, a vehicle by which we can begin to allay that layer of mistrust that has built up in the last several years,” Biden said as he went into a meeting with President Shimon Peres.

“I think we are at a moment of real opportunity and I think that the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian people, if everybody stops and takes a deep breath, are actually more in line than they are opposites,” he said.

Biden, the highest-ranking US official to visit Israel and the West Bank since President Barack Obama took office a year ago, was also due to meet hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

On Wednesday, he heads to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad, and also plans to meet former British prime minister Tony Blair, the special envoy for the Quartet of key diplomatic players. Both Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to the US-backed indirect talks, despite deep scepticism about the prospects for success.

Direct negotiations between the two sides have been on hold since Israel carried out a devastating offensive against the Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009, despite months of US efforts to relaunch the peace process.

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