US secretary of state nominee Kerry to visit Jerusalem, Ramallah in Feb: report

US secretary of state nominee Kerry to visit Jerusalem, Ramallah in Feb: report

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
US secretary of state nominee Kerry to visit Jerusalem, Ramallah in Feb: report

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Senator John Kerry, on track to become the next US secretary of state, is to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah in February to examine ways of reviving the peace process, an Israeli daily reported on Friday.

Quoting senior Israeli officials, the left-leaning Haaretz said Kerry was interested in visiting as soon as possible, even before a new Israeli government is appointed following Tuesday's general election.
They said Kerry, who has not yet formed a peace plan, wants to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

No date has been set for the visit, but it would happen in February as part of a wider regional tour.

A spokesman for Netanyahu's office said he was unaware of any such plans, and the foreign ministry said it had not been approached by the US embassy with such a request.

Following this week's election, which saw Netanyahu re-elected by a narrow margin and the centrist Yesh Atid party soar to second place, Kerry saw an opportunity for significant progress in reviving talks, Haaretz said.

Yesh Atid backs a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Earlier this month, deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon met several Kerry aides in Washington who told him the senator was interested in renewing efforts to revive peace talks, one of the officials said.

Kerry is not expected to appoint a special peace envoy but will come personally to assess the situation and the likelihood of talks being revived, the paper said.

"President Obama does not intend to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian issue personally, and will give Kerry full authority, independence and support on the matter," the official said.

"If Kerry thinks there is a chance for progress in the peace process he will invest personal effort in it and will come to the region frequently.

"But if he sees after a few visits that there is no will from the parties to progress, he will go and deal with other issues such as Africa or relations with China and Russia." Kerry on Thursday hinted at having a plan for rekindling peace talks, but warned the door for a "two-state solution" could be closing. He said he had "a lot of thoughts" about how to maybe kick-start talks, but refused to say more.

Direct talks began in September 2010, but collapsed three weeks later in an acrimonious dispute over settlements, with the Palestinians refusing to talk while Israel builds on land they want for a future state.

Israel has said it wants an immediate return to negotiations, but has rejected the demand to stop settlement building as an unacceptable precondition.

John Kerry not optimistic on Syria deal with Russia

U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, John Kerry, said he was not optimistic on reaching a compromise with Russia over the Syrian crisis, as he addressed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 24.

Kerry said there was a moment when Syria reached out to the West but that the moment has long passed. “History caught up to us. That never happened. And it’s now moot, because [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] has made a set of judgments that are inexcusable, that are reprehensible, and I think [he] is not long for remaining as the head of state in Syria,” the senator said. “I think the time is ticking.”

Senator John McCain, a leading Republican and a fierce critic of Obama’s policy on Syria, said the status quo is unacceptable, with the United Nations estimating that 60,000 have been killed and the heavy influx of refugees in Jordan and Turkey. “We can do a lot more without putting American boots on the ground,” McCain said. “Otherwise, we will be judged harshly by history.”

Kerry said the United States must find a way to work with Russia but he is not optimistic about the U.S.-Russian relationship. “I don’t want inquisitiveness or curiosity about what possibilities might exist with the Russians to be translated into optimism. I don’t have optimism. I have hope.”

He also said he’s looking for some track that would change al-Assad’s calculations. “If you have the complete implosion of the state, nobody has clear definition of how you put those pieces back together,” Kerry said. “And you have a much greater risk with respect to those chemical weapons.”