U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry worked Wednesday to keep the Palestinians committed to his hope of restarting Mideast peace talks despite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' move to set up an interim government with a militant group that refuses to recognize Israel.
Kerry met with Abbas in a London hotel for the first time since peace negotiations collapsed last month.
Kerry, who is in London for talks with international partners about the Syrian civil war and political unrest in Ukraine, said he planned to have an informal meeting with Abbas and that he did not plan to offer any proposals.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that during the two-hour meeting, Kerry reiterated U.S. support for the Palestinian people.
"Secretary Kerry made clear that while the door remains open to peace, it is up to the parties to determine whether they are willing to take the steps necessary to resume negotiations," she said "He again urged both sides to refrain from unhelpful steps."
The talks fell apart after nine months of discussions amid one-sided moves by both the Palestinians and Israelis.
Israel promised to, but ultimately did not, release Palestinian prisoners and approved construction of hundreds of new homes in Israeli settlements.
On the Palestinian side, Abbas held off trying to join international agencies and conventions even though the U.N. General Assembly recognized a "state of Palestine" as a non-member observer in 2012. But in early April, Abbas signed letters to join 15 international conventions, despite a promise that he would refrain from seeking further recognition for Palestine for the duration of the negotiations. The U.S. and Israel had denounced the move as an attempt to bypass peace talks.
The Palestinians also angered Israel by moving to reconcile with Hamas, which has been branded as a terror group by the U.S. It's the latest in a series of reconciliation attempts since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Abbas in 2007, leaving Abbas with parts of the West Bank.
Abbas wants to set up a unity government with Hamas by the end of the month. He says the new government will be bound by his plan to seek peace with Israel — something he hopes will allay U.S. concerns about a partnership with militants who refuse to renounce violence.
The reconciliation with Hamas presents a difficult problem for Kerry's peace effort because Israel says it won't negotiate with any government backed by Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks over the years.
Psaki said Kerry reiterated the need for any Palestinian government to recognize Israel, commit to nonviolence and abide by previous agreements."
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have signaled that any permanent arrangement between the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Hamas would force the United States to end some $400 million in economic and security aid provided annually. U.S. law states that no foreign aid can be provided to "any entity effectively controlled by Hamas, any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence."