U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sought to ease differences with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem today after ties were strained by disagreements on Iran and the Palestinians.
Kerry said the Obama administration would tighten enforcement of Iran sanctions and has a “deep, deep commitment” to Israel’s security as it seeks a final nuclear accord with the Iranians and explores security arrangements that might facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Netanyahu toned down his criticism of the preliminary agreement the U.S. and world powers reached with Iran last month, saying any final pact must dismantle Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. The two men spoke after meeting at Netanyahu’s office. Kerry later said after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah that he may return for further talks in a week or two.
“The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable,” Kerry said. “And while occasionally we might have a difference of a tactical measure, we do not have a difference about the fundamental strategy that we both seek with respect to the security of Israel and the long-term peace of this region.”
Netanyahu has called the Iran deal a ‘historic mistake,’’ voicing concern that international pressure on Iran would ease after negotiators traded sanctions relief for some limitations on Iran’s suspected nuclear program. He has also said Israel’s security would be the paramount concern in any peace deal with the Palestinians.
‘Vigilant’ on Sanctions
“With respect to the sanctions, we will obviously be vigilant,” Kerry said after meeting with Netanyahu. “The fundamental sanctions regime of oil and banking remain absolutely in place” and enforcement will be stepped up, he added. Iran denies its nuclear program is designed to build weapons.
The Iran deal sparked the most public dispute between the U.S. and Israel in years, and at their joint appearance, Kerry and Netanyahu tried to dispel the impression of friction, with Kerry calling Netanyahu “my friend, Bibi” and the Israeli leader using less heated rhetoric in calling for the destruction of Iranian military nuclear capabilities.
While Netanyahu has cautioned in the past that a deal with Iran could jeopardize peacemaking with the Palestinians, today he said Israel is ready for “a historic peace” if “the Palestinians are committed to this goal as well.”
Kerry said some progress has been made in the peace talks, and that retired U.S. Marine General John R. Allen had joined the meeting with Netayahu to discuss ideas regarding security arrangements for an accord that would pave the way to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The secretary of state met Abbas for three hours at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah and said the two discussed both Israeli and Palestinian security concerns.
U.S. security experts are examining ways to provide security in the Jordan Valley section of the West Bank if Israeli forces were to withdraw from the area, Israel’s Army Radio said today, without saying how it obtained the information.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel must retain a long-term presence in the area to safeguard its eastern border with Jordan.
Palestinians insist that Israel fully withdraw from all the areas it conquered in the 1967 war under a final peace agreement.
“We should first draw the borders, and security arrangements will be based on those lines,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, said today in Ramallah. If the U.S. accepts that the final borders will be drawn according to what Israel determines as its security needs, “all hell will break loose,” he said.
Kerry brought the two sides together in late July for their first formal negotiations in three years, setting a nine-month target for reaching a final accord. No breakthroughs have been reported so far.
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