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Tillerson says US hopes Abbas will 'find way back to table' with Washington

Secretary of State​ Rex Tillerson, left, meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas​ on Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in Washington.
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Abbas has refused contact with Trump's administration since its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that he “understands” some of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ misgivings about decisions made by the administration of President Donald Trump, such as its controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but hopes that the Palestinian leader will reverse his decision to freeze contacts with Washington on possible peace talks and “find his way back to the table”.

Speaking to the US-backed Al Hurra TV on a visit to Kuwait, Tillerson reiterated the Trump administration's commitment to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I understand President Abbas, his concern about certain steps and decisions taken by the United States," Tillerson told the broadcaster. "My message to President Abbas is the United States is still committed to seeing a successful Middle East peace process, and is prepared to assist in that effort going forward. We hope that President Abbas will find his way back to the table."

Tillerson, who spoke earlier Tuesday at a meeting of the US-led military coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also addressed Saturday’s flare-up on the Syrian-Israeli border.

“We take the threats to Israel seriously and we take a view that Israel has every right to defend itself from those threats," Tillerson said, noting that instability in Syria also posed threats to neighboring Jordan and Turkey.

Khaled ELFIQI (POOL/AFP)

“That’s why we will remain in Syria until ISIS is fully defeated and we are certain will not re-emerge. And we will remain engaged in the political solution for Syria, which we think is the long-term means of bringing stability to Syria and restoring Syria’s independent nature," Tillerson said.

Tillerson arrived in Kuwait on Tuesday after holding talks Monday in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

He is also set to visit Jordan to meet King Abdullah II and Lebanon to meet President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Tillerson is then set to head to Turkey for discussions with Washington's NATO ally including on the conflict in Syria.

There is no planned stop in Jerusalem as part of Tillerson’s Middle East tour.

Abbas has refused any contact with Trump's administration since Washington's decision at the end of last year to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Israel and the Palestinians hold competing claims over the city. While Israel views the undivided city as its capital, the Palestinians see the Arab-majority eastern sector as the desired capital of their future state.

Outraged by Trump's upending of decades of careful US policy towards the city, Abbas has declared he would no longer accept any peace plan put forth by Washington and has instead turned to Russia as a possible new broker.

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