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Israeli minister says she hopes U.S. helps restart peace talks

By Jessica Yellin, CNN Chief White House Correspondent
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed March 20, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Secretary of State John Kerry likely to meet Israeli prime minister on Saturday
  • Israeli justice minister expects Kerry will lay groundwork to try to restart peace talks
  • The Obama administration is downplaying the potential for any discussions

(CNN) -- Secretary of State John Kerry plans to return to Israel after President Barack Obama leaves and it is expected he will lay the groundwork to try to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Wednesday.

READ: Weapons movement in Syria an issue as Obama visits Israel

"It's the beginning," Livni told CNN during an interview at her Tel Aviv home.

A senior State Department official told CNN that Kerry would likely meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday to review the results of Obama's trip and "discuss next steps on the key issues."

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The official was not more specific.

Obama arrived in Israel on Wednesday, his first trip as president to the Jewish state, and will also travel to Jordan and the West Bank.

Livni joined the coalition government on the condition she would lead the Israeli team during any peace negotiations. She plans to attend Saturday's meeting.

"I'd hope this would be the beginning of sitting together, looking at the region, the changes in the region, deciding what is the best next step," Livni told CNN after insisting she believes Israel has a partner for peace and the time is right.

The Obama administration has not advertised Kerry's trip and is taking pains to downplay the potential for any discussions, setting expectations for the president's visit exceptionally low.

Any discussion with the Israelis about a negotiated peace would likely focus on Israel's conditions for restarting talks.

But Livni chafes at the term "conditions."

She says she hopes that during the meeting with Kerry, they will discuss "what is the new plan," meaning "not only just a vague idea of two states. Israel's security, borders everything."

READ: The U.S. and Israel and the art of relationship maintenance

White House officials said Obama was not bringing a new peace initiative and lacked optimism that enough solid ground existed to try to revive direct negotiations over the declared goal of both sides for separate, neighboring states.

Most of all, the president's aides said, Obama wanted to assess how prepared -- if at all -- Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas were to return to talks.

Scores of Palestinian activists set up a tent village outside Jerusalem in the West Bank on Wednesday, to protest Obama's visit and continued Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

The organizing group, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, has staged similar protests in the past.

CNN's Elise Labott and Kareem Khadder contributed to this report

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