Kerry Due in Mideast Next Week to Discuss Iran, Israel-Palestinian Talks

The U.S. secretary of state is trying to invigorate the peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians; he will also visit Egypt and Jordan.

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Only two weeks after his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Jerusalem and Ramallah next week, expected to address Iran's nuclear program and the unproductive talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

A senior official in Jerusalem said Kerry, who will also be visiting Egypt and Jordan, will land in Israel on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday he will meet in Jerusalem with Netanyahu and in Ramallah with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

So far there have been 15 meetings between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, including two this week. Despite the ramped-up rate of talks, there has been no breakthrough.

The talks have focused on the basic Israeli and Palestinian positions on the core issues, stressing borders and security. But the real negotiations, in which the sides become more flexible and try to narrow the gaps, have yet to begin.

Kerry will be arriving against the backdrop of Israel's plans to build another 5,000 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. After the weak condemnation by the U.S. State Department Wednesday, there were harsher remarks Thursday from the European Union, Russia and Britain.

"The European Union deplores the recent settlement announcements," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "Any actions that could hamper or undermine the ongoing negotiations must be avoided."

Kerry's talks in Israel are expected to deal with the Iranian nuclear program as well. A day after his meeting with Netanyahu, the second round of nuclear talks between Iran and the six major powers will begin in Geneva. In recent days Kerry and other senior U.S. officials have been trying to persuade Congress to stop pressuring for new sanctions on Iran.

The Obama administration seeks a several-month "time-out" in the sanctions, probably until January, so as not to undermine the negotiations on limiting the nuclear program. This week senior officials from the White House and State Department even met in Washington with representatives of Jewish organizations to update them on the talks and reassure them that there is no intention of lifting the sanctions if Iran takes no steps to end its nuclear weapons program.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Villa Taverna in Rome, Italy, October 23, 2013. Credit: Reuters