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President Obama welcomes start of Israeli-Palestinian talks - but 'hard choices' lie ahead


President Barack Obama welcomed the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that started in Washington on Monday as a “promising step forward” but warned that “hard choices” lie ahead.

Mr Obama made the comments with senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators en route to Washington.

"This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead," the President 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.

"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."

Mr Obama said he saw the profound desire Palestinians and Israelis both have for peace when he visited the region in March. 

He also praised Secretary of State John Kerry for bringing the parties together and former U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk for agreeing to shepherd the talks. 

Mr Obama and Kerry met this afternoon before the talks were fully underway by Monday evening.

They are expected to continue on Tuesday.

The White House is also welcoming the Israeli Cabinet's decision yesterday to free 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners in four stages, linked to progress in talks.

The release was part of an agreement Kerry brokered bring the sides back to the table.  White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US saw this move as a positive step.

At a press conference in Washington DC, Mr Kerry urged both sides to make "reasonable compromises" for peace.

"I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know the consequences of not trying will be worse," he said.