Before heading into the Oval Office, Obama praised the Palestinian Authority leader for having "consistently denounced violence" and told reporters he looked forward to productive discussions about the "very hard, very challenging, tough political decisions and risks" that lay ahead in order to reach a "comprehensive peace."
"Everyone understands the outlines of what [a] peace deal would look like," Obama said.
"I look forward to productive discussions."
Abbas, speaking through a translator with Obama appearing somber as he looked on with one hand on his chin, expressed a sense of urgency about the talks.
"We don't have any time to waste. Time is not on our side," he said.
Abbas called it "a historic opportunity."
Both men praised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to broker a Mideast peace deal.
With Israel demanding the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state, Abbas noted Palestinians recognized Israel in international agreements in 1988 and 1993.
He also said the release of additional political prisoners on March 29, saying it will be a sign Israel is serious about the peace process.
The New York Times reported the White House meeting took place amid signs the peace negotiations are gummed up over Israel's requirement that it be recognized as a Jewish state. An unnamed senior official told the newspaper Obama didn't expect Abbas to agree to official recognition but wanted some evidence the Palestinian leader was "willing to take some risks for the framework."
"When you get down to the final stages, you get to the core issues of identity for both sides," the official said. "The question is, what formulas can you come up with in the framework that would allow people to make tough decisions?"