Middle East peace mediators to meet in Munich

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton prior to peace talks in Montreux January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
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MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Top officials from the United Nations, United States, Russia and European Union will meet on Saturday to discuss how they can help U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's drive for a Middle East peace deal, the EU said on Friday. The meeting of the so-called Quartet of Middle East peace mediators will be held in Munich on the sidelines of the annual security conference there. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she would chair the meeting with Kerry, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Quartet envoy Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. "This meeting takes place in a moment when difficult and bold decisions need to be made. The dividends of peace for Israelis and Palestinians are enormous," Ashton said in a statement. "I hope that together we can help those decisions to become a reality to continue working towards a negotiated peace agreement, setting an end to the conflict and fulfilling the legitimate aspirations of both parties," she said. Kerry has toiled for six months to push Palestinians and Israelis towards an elusive peace deal to end their generations-old conflict. A handful of diplomats remain hopeful he will defy the pessimists and secure at least a framework deal in the coming weeks to allow detailed talks to continue beyond the original nine-month deadline, which expires on April 29. But, with both sides far apart on many core issues including borders, security, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the future status of Jerusalem, many Palestinians and Israelis believe the talks are going nowhere. (Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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