WASHINGTON: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will return to the Middle East this week to push for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in a trip that will also take him to Vietnam and the Philippines, the State Department said Monday.
The top American envoy will leave for Jerusalem Wednesday to talk about Iran and the ongoing final-status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said in a statement.
He will then travel to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process, which he said was “closer” to a peace deal than in years when he wrapped up his eighth visit to the region Friday.
During his trip last week, Kerry focused on Israel’s security concerns. His proposals, presented to Netanyahu and Abbas Thursday, were welcomed by Israel but rejected by the Palestinians on the grounds that they would only lead to Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories.
In his address to the UN General Assembly in September, U.S. President Barack Obama cited Iran’s nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as his two near-term goals in foreign policy.
The talks were resumed in late July with a view to reaching an agreement on the final-status issues — security, border, the status of Jerusalem and refugees — by the end of April next year. Kerry had pressed the two sides to go beyond the nine-month deadline in their talks during his last trip.
Kerry was forced to postpone his trip to the Philippines in October due to an approaching typhoon. His upcoming overseas trip will run through Dec. 18. PNA