While the event was largely overshadowed by the latest developments in Ukraine, U.S. President Barack Obama held a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday.
Obama was expected to use the meeting to urge Abbas to sign onto a framework to extend peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis beyond an April deadline.
"I believe that now is the time for not just the leaders of both sides but also the peoples of both sides to embrace this opportunity for peace," Obama said in remarks ahead of the meeting.
He added, "But we're going to have a lot of details that we're going to have to discuss. It's very hard; it's very challenging."
Obama noted that some tough political decisions would have to be made but expressed hope for continued progress in the coming days and weeks.
For his part, Abbas warned that there is no time to waste, citing "the very difficult situation that the Middle East is experiencing and the entire region is facing."
Abbas also called on Israel to proceed with the scheduled release of a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners by the end of March as part of an agreement brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry.
"Mr. President, I'm aware that you have several international concerns in various places around the world and we know that you are dedicating your time and effort for peace, and so are the teams that are working on this," Abbas told Obama.
He added, "We count on these efforts and we will build on them because we consider this to be a historic opportunity to achieve peace."
The White House meeting with Abbas comes two weeks after Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has reportedly made Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland a prerequisite for an agreement, but Abbas has adamantly refused.
by RTT Staff Writer
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