U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Jordan today on his sixth trip to the Middle East in as many months to push Israelis and Palestinians back to peace talks and meet with Arab officials to discuss the upheaval in Egypt and Syria.
Kerry, who was in the region two weeks ago, claimed progress at that time in prodding Israelis and Palestinians toward renewed negotiations and in reaching agreement with Russia about an eventual peace conference on Syria’s civil war. State Department officials are downplaying expectations for this visit, portraying it as a chance for Kerry to make good on a pledge to keep Arab leaders updated.
Kerry met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman today and said afterward that he may go to a camp for Syrian refugees. The UN estimates that almost 500,000 people have crossed into Jordan to escape fighting in Syria.
“I think we may wind up visiting one of the refugee camps as we talk about Syria,” Kerry said. “We were just chatting about the importance of that.”
Kerry is scheduled to have a private dinner tonight with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He has no plans to visit Israel or meet with Israeli leaders on this trip, according to State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.Z
Tomorrow Kerry is slated to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah and officials from the Arab League’s Peace Initiative Committee, a group focused on ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. Kerry last met with the committee in Washington on April 29.
Israel annexed the Golan Heights in a move never recognized internationally and says that the fate of settlements in the West Bank should be settled as part of a peace agreement. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.
“The latest decision is one in a long list of decisions that are causing Israel’s isolation in the world,” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said in an e-mailed statement. “Time is not working in our favor. Every day that Israel isn’t negotiating peace is a day during which more damage is caused to its international standing.”
Lapid said in the statement that he intends to talk with Israel’s friends in the EU and explain to them that the decision is damaging their goal of achieving peace.
In addition to updating his counterparts on Mideast peace efforts, Kerry will take advantage of their presence to outline the U.S. view on conditions in Syria. Syrian Opposition Coalition elections have established a new Syrian opposition leadership, another point of discussion, according to a State Department official who wasn’t authorized to speak for attribution.
Kerry also will describe Deputy Secretary William Burns’s meetings in Cairo this week with Egyptian officials, the official said. In meetings with Egypt’s military-installed interim leadership and civil society groups, Burns has emphasized that the U.S. backs a rapid transfer to civilian governance, transparency and the rule of law, the official said.
Burns took care to stress that the U.S. isn’t telling Egyptians what to do, the official said. The official didn’t explain why Burns didn’t meet with the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that backed ousted President Mohamed Mursi.
While refusing to provide details about Kerry’s plans to work on the Mideast peace process during the trip, Psaki said yesterday that “the secretary would not be going back to the region if he did not feel there was an opportunity to keep taking steps forward in providing an update to representatives of the Arab League, as part of that. But beyond that, I don’t have any announcements or predictions to make for all of you.”
On his last visit, Kerry asked two advisers to stay behind to consult with the Israelis and Palestinians. Frank Lowenstein and Jonathan Schwartz have been there for the past couple of weeks, the State Department official said.
Kerry also is expected to meet with officials from Egypt’s interim government on Wednesday, according to the State Department official. The official said it wasn’t clear which officials would come or how high-ranking they would be.
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