US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Wednesday that his quest to seal a full Middle East peace deal will slip beyond an April deadline.
He was first hoping to agree a framework to guide the talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Kerry told a small group of reporters in Washington, including AFP.
"Then we get into the final negotiations. I don't think anybody would worry if there's another nine months, or whatever it's going to be... But that's not defined yet," he said in his private conference room at the State Department.
"We're using the current deadline to help shape this," he said, adding he was prepared to continue the talks "for whatever period of time might be appropriate."
The top US diplomat coaxed the two sides back to the negotiating table in late July, after a three-year hiatus, and at the time said the aim was to reach a full peace treaty within nine months.
But asked Wednesday if that was still possible, Kerry replied: "Well, no, we've been very upfront about that. For months we've been saying we're trying to get a framework."
"We've understood what we can get within this time period. We've never fudged that," he insisted.
"We're trying to get the framework, which is a huge deal if we've used these seven months thus far to get an understanding of where the parties are and to be able to shape the final negotiations."
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Kerry has been shuttling between the two sides, and last week met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Paris for talks as he seeks to hammer out the framework.
The negotiations have shown little sign of progress, amid bitter recriminations with each side blaming the other for the stalemate.
But Kerry insisted that both parties were still "in the middle" of the talks.
"I laugh at people who say it's not going anywhere. They don't know because we're not talking about where it's at. They have no clue where our negotiations are and whether they could go anywhere."
A Palestinian official told AFP however last week that Kerry's ideas could not be the basis of any framework.
"The ideas proposed cannot be accepted by the Palestinian side as the basis for a framework accord between the Palestinians and Israel as they do not take into account the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people," he told AFP, asking not to be named.
US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said on Friday that he expected Palestinian recognition of Israel's Jewish character to be part of the framework, which Palestinians fear could compromise the right of return for refugees.
Kerry is also likely in the coming days to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of an annual conference in Washington organized by a powerful American-Israeli lobbying group.
"Clearly the final status agreement is a huge document, pages of legalese that have to be worked out, about security and movements and passages... water, energy, there's a lot there," he added.