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Kerry heads for latest Middle East peace push

US Secretary of State John Kerry climbs the stairs to his plane as he leaves Jeddah, on June 25, 2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry climbs the stairs to his plane as he leaves Jeddah, on June 25, 2013, headed to Kuwait. Kerry heads Wednesday on his latest push to resume direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, hoping to overcome doubts o

US Secretary of State John Kerry heads Wednesday on his latest push to resume direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, hoping to overcome doubts on whether he can succeed.

After a stop in Kuwait, Kerry flies later in the day to Jordan which he will use as a base as he shuttles between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, a US official said.

It is Kerry's fifth visit to the region since the veteran senator became the top US diplomat in February. He has vowed to keep pressing to solve one the world's most intractable disputes, while warning that the clock is ticking.

Kerry, speaking Tuesday in Saudi Arabia, said that President Barack Obama's administration hoped to bring about peace "notwithstanding all of the conflict, notwithstanding all of the counter-indications".

"We believe, President Obama believes, that those negotiations should start as soon as is possible, and hopefully that they should conclude with two states living side by side in peace and security," Kerry said.

Kerry said he was also working with regional players and praised Saudi Arabia for leading a decade-old proposal that would include Arab states' recognition of Israel in return for Israel withdrawing from territories seized in 1967.

But Netanyahu, who already had a tense relationship with Obama during the US leader's first term over pressure on the peace process, came out of elections leading a coalition that is even more critical of compromises.

Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party who serves as deputy defence minister, said this month that the government was not serious about a Palestinian state and that a move towards one would be opposed by most of the coalition.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Jeddah, on June 25, 2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal talk before a joint press conference in Jeddah, on June 25, 2013.

Netanyahu said Tuesday that his goal was not just to "tick the box of starting negotiations".

"Our aim is to persevere in the talks and to continue them for a period of time in order to try and deal with the issues and reach an agreement that will resolve the essential issues of the conflict," Netanyahu said.

The two sides have not held face-to-face negotiations since September 2010, and even then the talks broke down within weeks after Israel failed to renew a freeze on construction of new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

The Palestinians have since demanded that Israel halt all construction and accept the 1967 lines as the basis for negotiations, while Israel has hit back that it would only talk without such "pre-conditions".

US officials are cautious not to predict breakthroughs and are seeking largely to ensure a path forward. The United States believes it is critical to make progress by September, the time of the UN General Assembly where Abbas could again seek to rally international support.

Abbas, meeting last week with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said that the Palestinians were committed "to the success of Kerry's efforts to save the peace process" with a goal of a Palestinian state.

Kerry was switching focus to the peace process after stops in Qatar and Saudi Arabia that looked mostly at coordinating assistance to Syrian rebels fighting a bloody civil war against President Bashar al-Assad.

Kerry was making his first visit as secretary of state to Kuwait where he hoped to encourage further international initiatives by the oil-rich state, which a US-led coalition freed from Iraqi occupation in the 1990-91 Gulf War.

The top US diplomat was expected to talk to Kuwait about economic support to the Palestinians. The emirate has a warming relationship with the Palestinian leadership after years of strain over its support for Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.

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