Talks times three: Kerry pursues several accords in the Middle East

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Three Middle East-related negotiations important to the United States are underway and getting active involvement by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

The first is on the 65-year-old Israeli-Palestinian problem of the disposition of former Palestinian territory into two "homeland" states, Israel and Palestine. The second is the dispute over Iran's nuclear program and the sanctions imposed on Iran to curtail the program. The third is the effort to end the Syrian civil war, which in two years has killed more than 100,000 and displaced millions.

The confidentiality of the Israeli-Palestinian talks that were restarted in July, at the instigation of Mr. Kerry, has been respected by both sides, but political ferment has led to some leaks that indicate only slow progress. This is predictable, given the sharp divisions that exist inside both the Israeli and Palestinian camps, created in part by elements that profit from the absence of an agreement. Mr. Kerry is prodding both sides to move forward.

Talks over Iran's nuclear program have resumed in Geneva between Iranian officials and representatives of the five members of the U.N. Security Council -- China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States -- plus Germany. Iran's foreign minister has given this round of talks a favorable prognosis. The other parties hope that means Iran is ready to accept at least a temporary freeze of its enrichment program in exchange for a partial, graduated relaxation of sanctions.

Talks to end the Syrian war offer the lowest prospect of success. Destruction of Syria's chemical weapons capacity, carried out, with the government's cooperation, by the Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, continues to proceed successfully. Prospective talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and the opposition, however, have not been set up, blocked for the most part by sharp divisions and stated preconditions by the rebels. Talks remain possible and are necessary, if a ghastly drag-out of the killing in Syria isn't to persist for years to come.

Mr. Kerry, reflecting U.S. interests, is working hard for all three negotiations to succeed.


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