Kerry Arrives in Israel to Talk Peace

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JERUSALEM -- Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel on Sunday to explore ideas with Palestinian and Israeli officials on how to advance the stalled peace process.

Mr. Kerry was scheduled to meet Sunday evening in Ramallah, West Bank, with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. On Monday and Tuesday, Mr. Kerry will consult with Israeli and Palestinian officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Israel is the second stop on a six-nation trip that will plunge Mr. Kerry into Middle East diplomacy. Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Kerry met with Turkish officials and urged them to move ahead with their commitment to normalize relations with Israel.

"We would like to see relationship get back on track in its full measure," Mr. Kerry said after meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey.

During his visit to Jerusalem last month, President Obama brokered an agreement between Israel and Turkey to restore ties. The two countries had frozen diplomatic relations after nine civilians of Turkish descent were killed in 2010 when the Israeli military intercepted a Turkish ship that was trying to run the Gaza naval blockade.

No sooner than the new agreement announced, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan boasted that it underscored Turkey's regional clout, and concerns emerged that there could be problems fulfilling the deal.

A group of Israeli diplomats, including senior advisers to Mr. Netanyahu, is expected to arrive in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Thursday for confidential discussions of the terms of the compensation that Israel is expected to provide.

Several steps were needed to restore relations, Mr. Kerry said, including Israel's provision of compensation, the return of Turkish and Israeli ambassadors to their posts and efforts to ensure that the "full relationship be embraced."

Mr. Kerry said he had been assured by Mr. Davutoglu that the Turkish government would avoid any displays of "triumphalism" that would suggest that it had forced Israel to make concessions.

Billboards in Turkey bragging of Turkish "pride" show photos of Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Netanyahu.

"Now if one or two people, or a few people, break out and make comments, that should not cloud the overall benefit," Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Davutoglu sketched out a more ambitious set of expectations of what would be needed to fully restore Israeli-Turkish relations, citing several preconditions, including the lifting of the Israeli embargo on supplies to Gaza that he said should follow the settling of the compensation issue.

"The embargoes should be eliminated right after that in order to fulfill the mutual commitments. And in Israel, West Bank and in Gaza, the living standards should be improved and all of the embargoes should be eliminated once and for all," Mr. Davutoglu said.

A Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his diplomatic status, said that the embargo that the Turks want lifted concerns goods for civilian use and not military equipment.

As soon as there is progress on the compensation and embargo issues, the Turkish official said, "we would press the button to relocate our diplomats in Israel."

Normalization of relations with Israel, however, is not Turkey's top national security priority, according to some observers.

"The government is on the verge of making important steps in issues like the resolution of the Kurdish conflict and drafting a new constitution, and does not want to weaken its public support," said Ilter Turan, a professor of political science at Istanbul's Bilgi University.

Mr. Turan said he saw no signs that the normalization progress with Israel was at risk but that there was also a "lack of eagerness to restructure the relations."

Mr. Erdogan is scheduled to meet with President Obama in Washington next month.

On Iran, Mr. Kerry indicated that the recent round of talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Iran's nuclear program had been disappointing, but he said that the United States and other powers would continue to pursue a diplomatic solution.

"The door is still open to doing that," Mr. Kerry said.

Michael R. Gordon reported from Jerusalem, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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