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Obama says path to Mideast peace challenging

WASHINGTON--U.S. President Barack Obama pressed visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday to help break the logjam to elusive Mideast peace talks, acknowledging with a deadline fast approaching that the task ahead is “very hard, it's very challenging.”

The White House meeting marked a renewed foray into a diplomatic minefield that the president has mostly left up to his secretary of state, John Kerry.

“We're going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we're to move it forward,” Obama said at the start of his Oval Office meeting with the Palestinian leader. “My hope is that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks.”

With just weeks left before a U.S.-imposed April deadline for completing a framework for peace talks, Obama is hoping presidential pressure might overcome a growing sense of pessimism on both sides. Just two weeks ago, Obama held a similar meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he urged Israel to make “tough decisions.”

Obama said everyone understands what the contours of a Mideast peace deal would look like — a Palestinian state based on territory captured by Israel in 1967 with “mutually agreed upon swaps” that ensure the security of Israel.

He praised Abbas as a leader who “has consistently renounced violence, has consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states, side by side in peace and security — a state that allows for the dignity and sovereignty of the Palestinian people and a state that allows for Israelis to feel secure and at peace with their neighbors.”

For his part, Abbas stressed the Palestinian position for a state based “on the 1967 borders so that the Palestinians can have their own independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip 47 years ago. Netanyahu rejects a return to those borders, and dividing the territory is complicated by Jewish settlements in areas Palestinians claim.

Speaking with reporters Monday afternoon, lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat signaled waning interest in continuing negotiations if no progress is made. Israelis have built more than 10,000 new settlement homes since the negotiations began last July, he said, resulting in the razing of over 200 Palestinian houses.

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U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Monday, March 17.

(AP)

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