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2013 critical to Mideast peace hopes: Norwegian FM

Update: March, 13/2013 - 12:00

WASHINGTON – As the 20th anniversary looms for the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians, a top Norwegian official has warned that 2013 would be "critical" to reviving hopes for peace.

Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said on Tuesday a visit later this month to the region by US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry would be very important to the stalled Middle East peace process.

"I think they really need now to install some kind of hope for a political horizon for this process," he said after talks with Kerry in Washington.

Oslo brokered the secret accords which led to the historic White House lawn handshake in September 1993 between then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Since then, Norway has worked with the international community to build up Palestinian institutions so they can run a Palestinian state independently.

"This effort only gives meaning as long as there is a political horizon," said Eide, adding people were investing time and effort "because they believe at the outcome there will be a two-state solution. And we can't go on forever."

"So 2013 is going to be a very important year in order to reinstall a belief in a negotiated settlement, which is actually the only reason that we keep working to build the institutions."

Kerry said Obama planned to visit to listen to what Israelis, Palestinians and key regional players had to say.

Obama would "not lay down a peace proposal, but express his visions for what the possibilities in the future are and listen to people," said Kerry, who last week met with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Riyadh.

Once the trip was over, then the US administration can "make some judgments about what the possibilities are for moving forward."

Kerry also thanked Norway for "helping to drive global efforts with respect to Middle East peace" saying "they played an oversized role in helping to create that great moment of the handshake here in Washington." AFP

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