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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he has "considerably" narrowed the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians and he believes the start of final-status negotiations could be "within reach."

Kerry delivered his assessment Sunday after four days of shuttling between the sides.

Kerry says he was impressed with the "serious commitment" by both sides to resume talks, which broke down nearly five years ago.

"I know progress when I see it, and we are making progress," Kerry said.

He said he would leave a team of experts in the region to continue efforts and he plans on returning soon.

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PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — President Barack Obama says former South African President Nelson Mandela continues to shine as a beacon of the power of principle and standing up for what's right.

Obama says South Africa's transition from apartheid to a free nation has been a personal inspiration and an inspiration to the world.

He says the recent outpouring of love for the critically ill anti-apartheid icon shows the deep yearning for justice and dignity in the human spirit. He says that yearning transcends class, race and country.

Obama spoke at a joint news conference with South African President Jacob Zuma. The White House says Obama will meet Saturday with Mandela's family but won't visit him in the hospital, in line with the family's wishes.

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is downplaying the damage done by Edward Snowden's highly classified leaks.

Susan Rice says in an Associated Press interview that the disclosures of widespread surveillance have not significantly have weakened the Obama presidency or U.S. foreign policy. Rice insists that the U.S. will remain "the most influential, powerful and important country in the world."

Rice's remarks were her only public ones on Snowden and came in an interview as she prepared to leave the U.N. post and start her new job Monday as President Barack Obama's national security adviser.

She says it's too soon to judge the long-term effects. Rice says the U.S. will work through this as it has done with past problems.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say Snowden's leaks damaged national security.

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