JERUSALEM: Washington’s top diplomat was holding talks on security with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday in their first meeting since a fallout over a nuclear deal struck with Iran.
United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry landed just before midnight (10 p.m. local time) on Wednesday for a trip aimed at giving momentum to the direct negotiations, which appear to have made little headway since they began under his patronage in late July.
But his meeting comes at a point of high tension with Israel over the November 24 Iran deal, which saw the Islamic republic agreeing to roll back parts of its nuclear program in return for limited sanctions relief—in a move loudly denounced by Netanyahu as a “historic mistake.”
Kerry was to hold talks in Jerusalem at 7:30 a.m. local time with Netanyahu then head to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for a meeting at 12 noon local time, officials said.
His morning meeting with Netanyahu will focus squarely on Israel’s security needs in the framework of a peace deal, and will see the Israeli leader receiving his first briefing from US special envoy on security General John Allen, US officials said.
US and Israeli media reports have suggested that Allen was to present Netanyahu with an outline of how Israel’s security arrangements might look as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
“Secretary Kerry and General Allen will be providing an update on their evaluation of Israel’s security as part of the meeting,” a senior State Department official said on Wednesday.
Another State Department official said the update would “include many details and specifics” but denied that Allen, who will be briefing Netanyahu for the first time, was to present him with a ready-made plan.
“He is providing an update [which will]include many details and specifics. This is obviously an ongoing discussion about Israel’s security . . . it’s not to present a plan,” the official said.
Kerry would also be giving Netanyahu an update on the “first-step” Geneva agreement with Iran and the talks under way to reach a comprehensive deal.
“He will certainly be providing an update and a briefing on . . . the P5+1 negotiations, the first step that was agreed to, as well as the path forward to a comprehensive agreement,” an official said.
Israel and the West believe that Iran’s nuclear program is a front for developing a weapons capability, a charge Tehran has repeatedly denied.
The Islamic republic has a long history of belligerent statements toward the Jewish state, which has warned that a nuclear Iran would pose a existential threat to Israel.