U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on March 17, AFP reported on Thursday, stepping up Washington's efforts to convince the PA leader to embrace a peace deal with Israel.
The meeting will come two weeks after Obama's planned encounter with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday, which will also take place at the White House.
"The President looks forward to reviewing with President Abbas the progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement quoted by AFP.
"They will also discuss our continuing effort to work cooperatively to strengthen the institutions that can support the establishment of a Palestinian state," he added.
The announcement comes after a report in the New York Times Thursday, which indicated that President Barack Obama has decided to take a more “active role” in the Israel-PA negotiations.
According to the report, during his meeting with Netanyahu, Obama will make an “urgent appeal” to Netanyahu to accept Kerry's plan.
The announcement was also made a day after Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been mounting an exhaustive diplomatic push, said that his quest to seal a full Middle East peace deal will slip beyond an April deadline.
The PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, rejected any extension of the talks, claiming that there is no point in doing so as long as Israel “continues to disregard international law.”
Kerry coaxed the two sides back to the negotiating table in late July, after Obama's initial drive to secure a peace deal foundered in his first term.
Despite Kerry's intense attention, the talks have shown little sign of progress, with each side blaming the other for the stalemate.
But Kerry insisted that both parties were still "in the middle" of the talks, saying, "I laugh at people who say it's not going anywhere. They don't know because we're not talking about where it's at. They have no clue where our negotiations are and whether they could go anywhere."
Last week, Kerry met twice in Paris with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, in what a U.S. official later described as "constructive" talks.
A PA official, however, said last Friday that ideas proposed by Kerry in Paris could not be accepted "as the basis for a framework accord... as they do not take into account the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."
Meanwhile, the PA-based Al-Quds newspaper reported on Wednesday that Abbas became very angry during his meeting with Kerry and threatened to end the negotiations with Israel.
According to the report, Abbas fumed when, during a meeting with Kerry in Paris, the top U.S. diplomat presented a new offer which, according to senior PA officials, adopted the Israeli positions for a peace agreement.