Kerry: Next Group of Palestinian Prisoners to Be Released as Planned at End of Month

U.S. Secretary of State says nine-month timeframe to achieve final agreement is still on; emphasizes that goal is final agreement, not interim deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the third group of Palestinian prisoners will be released as planned on December 29.

Speaking at a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv before departing to Vietnam, Kerry said the U.S. is "not talking at this point about any shifts (in the schedule)." Over the last week, Kerry attempted to convince the Palestinians to agree to delay the prisoner release by a month, fearing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after the planned release, would declare another wave of settlement construction which could derail the peace process.

Kerry had offered the Palestinians that the fourth group of prisoners will be released sooner so more than 60 Palestinian prisoners will be released at the end of January at once. Kerry had wanted the prisoner release to take place at the same time as the presentation of the "framework agreement" which he plans to formulate with both sides in the coming weeks.

The Palestinians rejected Kerry's offer and claimed it was a violation of the agreements that were reached in order to restart the peace talks. The Palestinians stressed that if the prisoner release would not take place on the date planned they would see themselves as free to pursue unilateral moves in the United Nations.

Kerry's press conference came after a three-hour meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday night and another meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday morning. Kerry's visit in Jerusalem and Ramallah proved to be a difficult operation due to the heavy snowstorms in the area.

In the press conference, Kerry emphasized that there is no plan to extend the nine-month timeframe that has been given to renewed peace talks. "Our goal remains a final status agreement. Not an interim agreement," he said.

Kerry praised Netanyahu and Abbas on their serious intentions regarding the peace talks and said a final agreement "will make Israelis and Palestinians more secure and prosperous."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv,