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John Kerry pushes for restart of Israeli-Palestinian talks

July 17, 2013|By Paul Richter
  • Secretary of State John F. Kerry meets with members of the Arab League peace initiative in Amman, Jordan.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry meets with members of the Arab League peace… (Mandel Ngan / Associated…)

AMMAN, Jordan -- Secretary of State John F. Kerry, on his sixth trip to the Middle East in four months, met Wednesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and asked an Arab League committee in a separate session to support his efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Though U.S. officials played down prospects for a breakthrough on this four-day trip, which began Monday, Kerry appeared to be pressing hard to restart face-to-face talks. His meeting with Abbas here, which lasted five hours, was his second in two days.

Kerry has no announced plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the secretary has shown he will adjust his schedule on short notice if need be.

Kerry has been eager to win support from the Arab League group, hoping their influence can help overcome the Palestinians’ reluctance to resume talks that have been stalled for three years. He also hopes the prospects of peace with the league's 22 member nations will encourage Israel to make concessions toward creating a separate Palestinian state.

Some Israeli and Jordanian news organizations reported that officials were close to a breakthrough, as other observers suggested that the two sides might be closer to a deal than they were letting on.

“You can’t rule out a surprise announcement,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a liberal American pro-peace advocacy group.

Kerry is also discussing the coup in Egypt and the civil war in Syria with the Arab leaders. The Obama administration wants the support of the rich Persian Gulf states in efforts to stabilize Egypt.

But the Gulf states, which have pledged more than $12 billion in aid to Egypt in the past week, have different and sometimes conflicting goals in Egypt.

All the countries in the region are under growing pressure due to the Syrian civil war. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned this week that Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan are reducing access to their countries for desperate Syrian refugees, risking an explosive situation in the region.

The commissioner urged nations outside the region to accept more Syrian refugees for resettlement, a politically sensitive move.

Kerry said he might visit a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan during his visit.

Israeli officials say they are ready to resume peace talks at any time. But Netanyahu said Sunday that he believes world powers should be placing more urgency on the threat of Iran’s advancing nuclear program and the Syrian civil war than on the long-stalemated Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Kerry has said his recent shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East is aimed at exploring whether progress is possible, and he has been careful not to set a firm deadline for his efforts. But diplomats say it is generally understood that he needs to show progress before the start of the United Nations General Assembly session in September.

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