JERUSALEM: Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni said Tuesday night she was "encouraged" by a first round of direct peace talks with the Palestinians after months of dogged US diplomacy ended a three-year hiatus.
"I am encouraged... coming out of the first meeting," she said in an interview broadcast early Wednesday by Israeli army radio. "It was an event in which there was a kind of excitement and also hope."
After meetings in Washington on Monday and Tuesday hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had painstakingly brokered the talks' resumption, Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat agreed to aim for a peace deal within nine months.
"It was important that there was a first meeting, after several months in which the Americans ran between us and them and we didn't sit with one another," said Livni, who is justice minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-leaning coalition government.
Kerry, who has staked much of his reputation as secretary of state on his single-minded pursuit of a Middle East peace deal, said all the contentious core issues would be on the table.
In the interview, recorded on Tuesday night, Livni said that an invitation to meet President Barack Obama at the White House earlier in the day was meant to show that Kerry was not pursuing a personal agenda.
"The fact of the invitation is a message in itself," she said.
"Contrary to all those who said it's all John Kerry's private mission and nobody else cares, the president of the United States comes along and says, 'Friends I'm here, it's not anyone's private business, I'm here because it's important to me'.
"That message was important in itself and, apart from that, the meeting was interesting," Livni said.
"It was very businesslike, very focussed, he wanted to know what's happening."