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US names Martin Indyk as envoy for stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry has named the former ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as special envoy to shepherd peace talks. Negotiations were set to resume after three years.

Martin Indyk was named just hours before the Palestinian and Israeli representatives were set to return to the negotiating table on Monday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told a press conference that Indyk would take on the difficult task of attempting to guide both sides to a full-fledged peace deal. But he said Indyk had the respect and confidence of all involved.

"It's no secret that this is a difficult process: If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago. It's no secret therefore that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated and symbolic issues," Kerry said.

"I think reasonable compromises have to be a keystone of all of this effort," he told reporters.

"To help the parties navigate the path to peace and to avoid as many pitfalls, we'll be very fortunate to have on our team on a day-to-day basis, working with the parties wherever they are negotiating, a seasoned American diplomat, ambassador Martin Indyk."

The 62-year-old Indyk is to take leave from his current position as vice president and foreign policy director at the Washinton-based Brookings Institution think tank. He previously served as former President Bill Clinton's ambassador to Israel during which time he took part in the failed 2000 Camp David peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Standing alongside Kerry on Monday, Indyk said his new role "was a daunting and humbling challenge but one I cannot desist from."

He was to be present when talks kicked off at a dinner to be hosted by Kerry on Monday evening. Tuesday is to see a full day of negotiations between Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erakat.

Obama welcomes peace talks

Speaking shortly after Indyk's appointment US President Barack Obama expressed optimism about the impending negotiations - the first face-to-face public meeting between both sides since September 2010.

"This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead," Obama said in a statement.

"I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination," he said.

"The United States stands ready to support them throughout these negotiations, with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security."

Israel and the Palestinians remain deeply divided over so-called "final status issues," including the fate of Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides as a capital.

The construction of Israeli settlements across the West Bank is seen as further complicating negotiations over the exact borders of a future Palestinian state and the right of return for refugees.

In a bid to enable negotiations on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought and won Cabinet approval for the controversial release of some Palestinian and Arab prisoners.

ccp/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)