ISTANBUL, Turkey — Secretary of State John Kerry urged Turkey to mend ties with Israel and help with a fresh push to negotiate peace in the Middle East.
Kerry is on the first leg of a nine-day tour starting in the Middle East, where he discussed Israel-Turkish relations and the Syrian crisis. The top U.S. diplomat also tested the waters among a key American ally for a possible revival of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“No peace process is easy,” Kerry said at a joint news conference today with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. It takes “courage and determination” and Turkey has a “very central role” to play as a powerful regional player, Kerry added, giving no details on any new initiative being discussed.
Kerry will see Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan before flying to Israel later Sunday to press for progress in the stalled Mideast peace process. In Ramallah in the West Bank, he will visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas followed by discussions in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 9.
President Barack Obama has charged Kerry with the task of resurrecting a dialogue between the Palestinians and Israel. Peace talks fell apart in September 2010 after Netanyahu didn’t extend a 10-month building freeze in the West Bank, and Abbas said he won’t restart negotiations until construction is halted.
The arrival of leaders from Jordan, Turkey, and Qatar to Washington in coming weeks, coupled with Kerry’s three visits to the region in under a month, have raised expectations that the United States may reprise a form of shuttle diplomacy and seek to revive a moribund peace initiative.
Kerry’s hastily arranged trip to Turkey comes after Obama brokered the thaw with Israel, and his visit served to speed up a reconciliation between two key U.S. allies following a three- year spat.
Netanyahu phoned Erdogan March 22 and apologized for the 2010 raid on a ship carrying aid to the Gaza strip that killed nine Turks.
While both countries need to take steps to normalize relations, including the exchange of ambassadors and agreeing on how much Israel will compensate Turkey, Kerry stressed he isn’t setting deadlines.
“It is not for the U.S. to be setting conditions or terms” on what the schedule should be, Kerry said. “We would like to see this relationship get back on track in its full measure.”
Also on the agenda was the two-year war in Syria that has killed more than 70,000 people and threatens to engulf the region. Turkey, which shares a border with the country, has been flooded by more than 180,000 refugees fleeing a conflict that has pitted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against opposition forces, including a growing number of jihadists, who are trying to oust him.
The United States has urged Turkey as well as Syria’s other neighbors, Jordan and Lebanon, not to close their borders. Kerry will repeat those calls to Erdogan amid frustration among the U.S.’ Arab allies about the lack of new initiatives and resources to prevent the chaos in Syria from spilling over.
The White House has made clear it doesn’t want an expanded role in Syria, while some of its European allies have taken a more active approach in helping the Syrian rebels. Britain and France are pushing their European Union partners to lift an arms embargo on Syria in order to supply anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the rebels.
Kerry is now in the position of defending a stance he didn’t share while he was head of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. Before becoming secretary of state, Kerry made the case for establishing humanitarian corridors in Syria, which would require military enforcement.
Asked about the creation of buffer zones, Kerry said he wasn’t going to speculate on military strategy.
He said he had a “very precise” discussion with his Turkish counterpart over how to bring about about a political transition.
Both diplomats agreed Assad “must go.”
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