Kerry, Rice brief Jewish, Arab American groups on Mideast peace talks

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Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice hosted Jewish-American and Arab-American community leaders at separate meetings at the White House Thursday and Friday to try to bolster domestic support for U.S. Middle East peace-making efforts.

Also attending the meetings were new US peace envoy Martin Indyk and his deputy Frank Lowenstein, as well as the White House’s top Middle East strategist Phil Gordon, senior director for Middle East and North Africa Prem Kumar, and deputy national security advisor for communications Ben Rhodes, attendees told Al-Monitor.

The meetings-ostensibly off the record–come as Indyk and Lowenstein are heading back to the region to facilitate a new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks next week. Negotiations will be held August 14th in Jerusalem followed by a meeting in Jericho, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Thursday.

“Obviously, they wanted to brief Jewish community leaders on their efforts with regard to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and also to appeal for the community to support their efforts,” Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the Orthodox Union, told the Back Channel Friday.

“I think everybody were appreciate of their efforts and commitment and motivations,” Diament continued. “Obviously, there were some difficult questions asked. But it was a very cordial and civil and substantive discussion.”

“I would say both Rice and Ben Rhodes … made a point of stating President Obama’s commitment to this agenda item and also his appreciation for what Secretary Kerry is doing,” Diament said.

Among the groups represented at the White House meeting Thursday evening were the Orthodox Union, J Street, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Israel Policy Forum, B’nai Brith, the Conservative Union, Hadassah, the National Jewish Democratic Council, National Council of Jewish Women, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, JTA reported.

The White House declined to provide a list of groups invited to attend the White House meeting Friday morning, which included the American Task Force for Palestine’s Ziad Asali and Shibley Telhami, of the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland.

(Photo: Secretary of State John Kerry with former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk at the State Department in Washington, Monday, July 29, 2013. Photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak.)