Kerry Returns to Middle East in Bid for Peace Talks

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AMMAN, Jordan -- Making his sixth trip to the Middle East as secretary of state, John Kerry arrived here Tuesday to try to bolster the prospects for renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Kerry was scheduled to have a private dinner on Tuesday evening with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and to meet on Wednesday with diplomats from the Arab League and King Abdullah of Jordan.

However, Mr. Kerry has no plans to go to Israel before returning to Washington on Thursday.

In Jerusalem, Mr. Kerry's decision to dispense with the frenetic shuttle diplomacy that marked his visit to Jordan and Israel last month was seen by some in the Israeli media as a sign that he has pushed the Israeli government about as far as it is prepared to go in making concessions and that he is now turning his attention to Mr. Abbas.

American officials, who have repeatedly refused to specify what issues are being discussed with the two sides, declined to discuss Mr. Kerry's strategy and played down expectations of an imminent breakthrough in resuming formal negotiations, which were last held in 2010.

Mr. Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, recently suffered a seizure and is undergoing rehabilitation in Boston, another factor that may have led him to limit the length of his current trip.

During his previous visits to the region, Mr. Kerry has repeatedly said that Palestinian and Israeli officials were nearing the point at which they needed to make hard decisions about jump-starting the moribund peace talks.

American officials have also stressed that it is important to secure a commitment from Israel and the Palestinian leaders to resume formal negotiations before September, when the United Nations General Assembly will again take up the Palestinian issue.

That has already fueled expectations that Mr. Kerry will be taking a seventh trip to the Middle East this summer, perhaps in just a few weeks.

In addition to meeting with Mr. Abbas, Mr. Kerry is scheduled to meet with diplomats from the Arab League in a bid to maintain Arab support for his Middle East peace efforts. Qatar, which presides over the Arab League committee on the Middle East peace initiative, agreed to shift that committee's meeting this week to Amman to accommodate Mr. Kerry's schedule of consultations.

Mr. Kerry also plans to discuss with Arab League diplomats the conflict in Syria and the situation in Egypt, including the efforts of William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state, who has been meeting with officials in Cairo.

The Syrian opposition recently selected a new leader: Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, a leader of the Shammar tribe who was backed by Saudi Arabia. Mr. Kerry, however, does not plan to meet with the Syrian opposition here. Egypt is expected to send a representative to the Arab League meeting here, but American officials said they did not know how high ranking that official would be.

Mr. Kerry met Tuesday evening with Nasser Judeh, Jordan's foreign minister, who noted that they were conferring on the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the effect on Jordan's economy. Mr. Kerry said that he may visit a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

"I think we may wind up visiting one of the refugee camps as we talk about Syria," Mr. Kerry said. "We were just chatting about the importance of that."

Since Mr. Kerry's trip to the region last month, two State Department officials -- Frank Lowenstein, Mr. Kerry's Middle East adviser, and Jonathan Schwartz, an official from the State Department's legal office -- have been in Israel meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

The remaining issues are believed to center on ways to bridge the gap between Mr. Abbas's demand that Israel take steps to demonstrate its seriousness before resuming talks, such as releasing Palestinian prisoners and imposing a freeze on settlements, and the refusal of Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to agree to preconditions.

The Palestinians, who won an upgraded status of "nonmember observer state" at the United Nations last year, have warned that if diplomatic progress is not made they may seek further international recognition as a state, like membership in the International Criminal Court. American officials fear any such bid would prompt an Israeli response and set back the already difficult effort to resume formal peace talks.

Michael R. Gorden reported from Amman, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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