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Kerry to Skip Israel in First Trip Abroad

By Matthew Auerbach   |   Tuesday, 19 Feb 2013 10:49 PM

Secretary of State John Kerry will not visit Israel when he makes his first trip abroad, the White House announced Tuesday. Kerry begins a nine-nation tour Sunday.

It had been assumed that Kerry would visit Israel and the West Bank in an attempt to set the table for the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians as a precursor to President Obama’s first trip to the country in March.

Kerry will instead be visiting nine Middle Eastern and European capitals over 10 days, focusing mostly on the civil war in Syria.

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When Kerry does makes his trip to Israel as secretary of state, he won’t be alone.

“Given the fact that the government’s coalition negotiations in Israel are still under way,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday, “the secretary will be traveling there with the president when he visits later in the spring, in lieu of making his own separate trip in February to Jerusalem and Ramallah.”

Kerry was expected to visit Israel and make a concerted effort to soften what has been seen as a tense relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, nothing could be further from the truth.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama got 11 meetings” in the president’s first term, Oren said Tuesday during an appearance on MSNBC.

“President Obama says he has spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu more frequently than any other foreign leader.”

Oren also said the stage is set for real progress in the peace process.

“If you look at where we are today [on Middle East peace], we’re much closer,” he said.

“We both call for the immediate resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, without preconditions, to come to a two-state solution. I think it’s going to be a great visit. I’m very excited about it.”

Obama’s visit to Israel will be his first as president.

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