Kerry urges Israel, Turkey to table

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ISTANBUL -- Fearing that a U.S.-backed reconciliation between Israel and Turkey might unravel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Turkish leaders Sunday that it was vital for peace in the region that the two close U.S. allies get their diplomatic relationship "back on track in its full measure."

At the beginning of a diplomatic blitz that he hoped would lay the groundwork for the resumption of long-moribund Palestinian-Israeli talks, Mr. Kerry made it clear in Istanbul that he intended to build on Israel-Turkey rapprochement as the first step toward regional stability. He then traveled to Israel and the West Bank, where he met late Sunday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and was scheduled to meet today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But it was hardly clear that the United States could parlay Israel's apology last month for the deaths of nine people during a 2010 commando raid on a Turkish ship bringing aid to Gaza into a broader role for Turkey in Middle East peace talks.

Israeli officials were hostile Sunday to the idea of a Turkish role in peace talks, and differences of opinion were evident between U.S. and Turkish officials over how to proceed.

During an appearance with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Mr. Kerry did not address Turkey's demand that Israel lift its embargo on Gaza, and he remained silent when Mr. Davutoglu defended plans by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, a fundamentalist Palestinian group that the United States considers a terrorist organization. Mr. Kerry also met with Mr. Erdogan, but U.S. officials said nothing about the substance or tone of those talks.

Mr. Kerry said he favored other Turkish demands, including that Israel pay compensation to the families of the eight Turks and one Turkish-American killed in the 2010 raid. He also urged the two countries to exchange ambassadors.

"We would like to see this relationship get back on track in its full measure," Mr. Kerry said after meeting Mr. Davutoglu.

Mr. Kerry said Turkey, with its booming economy, secular state and democratic order, could be "an important contributor" to the peace process by helping revive the Palestinian economy, and it could be "very helpful" in helping transform Gaza and in "helping create the climate of peace."

That vision found few backers among Israeli and Palestinian officials, however.

Tzipi Livni, Israel's minister of justice and lead peace negotiator, was hesitant to embrace the concept. "The idea is interesting, but it could take time," she said.

In past years, peace talks have largely ignored the subject of the coastal Gaza strip, while Israeli officials have argued that until Hamas can fully reconcile with the Fatah movement, which controls the West Bank, there can be no progress on a final status agreement.

Palestinian officials based in Ramallah also dismissed reports that Turkey might play a mediating role, calling any potential Turkish mediation "ill-founded" and "ineffective." Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki said his government preferred relying on the so-called quartet -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- as an intermediary because of their influence on the Israeli government.

But a Palestinian official speaking privately said the real reason behind the hesitation to involve Turkey was concern that Mr. Erdogan would favor Hamas over the more moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.

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