U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will return to the Middle East this weekend for talks with Israeli, Palestinian and Turkish leaders.
After talking with Turkish officials in Istanbul about Syria, Kerry will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on reviving peace talks, Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said today.
Kerry will then travel to London for the Group of Eight meeting.
“Secretary Kerry has been passionate on the subject of the U.S. playing an active role in supporting Middle East peace for his entire career,” Nuland told reporters.
At his first stop in Turkey, the top U.S. diplomat will follow up on President Barack Obama’s effort to help rebuild relations between Israel, America’s closest Mideast ally, and Turkey, an important NATO partner.
During Obama’s three-day visit to Israel last month, the U.S. leader and Netanyahu spoke by telephone on March 22 with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for the 2010 deaths of nine Turks taking part in an aid flotilla to Gaza that was intercepted by Israeli security forces. The incident damaged relations between the two nations.
Kerry’s trip will give him “an opportunity to spur” Turkey and Israel “to continue to take steps to deepen their normalization and to work well together,” Nuland said.
Kerry will also discuss the war in Syria, which has killed more than 70,000 people in the past two years, and seek to broker dialogue between the Palestinian Authority and Netanyahu’s new Israeli coalition government.
“Secretary Kerry very much believes in personal diplomacy,” Nuland said at a briefing in Washington. “He believes in sitting with leaders and listening to them. So that’s what he will be doing again this time.”
“He’ll also be making clear that the parties themselves have to want to get back to the table, that this is a choice that they have to make,” Nuland said.
Kerry “is not planning to put a big plan on the table” during talks with Netanyahu and Abbas, she said.
“We are still at the ‘let’s see what’s possible’ stage,” Nuland said. “The secretary’s committed to using his strong relationships with both leaders to encourage them to be open, to be creative, to be prepared for compromises and to work hard to build trust between them.”