U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was evaluating whether to continue its role in Middle East peace talks after both Israeli and Palestinian sides had taken steps that were not helpful to the negotiations.
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Speaking during a visit to Morocco, Kerry said it was "reality check time" and there was a limit to the time the United States could spend on the peace process if the parties themselves were unwilling to take constructive measures.
"This is not an open-ended effort, it never has been. It is reality check time, and we intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be," Kerry said.
According to Kerry, both sides said they want to continue, and neither wishes the talks to be called off. However, he added that the U.S. is "not going to sit there indefinitely."
Earlier on Friday, top U.S. officials told the Washington Post that President Barack Obama believes that however worthy the goal, Kerry's effort to advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians "may be reaching its limit."
According to the report, several officials on Kerry's senior staff and inside the White House believe "it's time to say enough." According to them, the secretary of state focus on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process poses a risk of "looking desperate," while other international issues are sidelined.
“A point will come where he has to go out and own the failure,” an official told the Washington Post. For now, the official said, Kerry needs to “lower the volume and see how things unfold.”
“He’s said many times internally that he’d like to resolve this situation, or at least get it on a stable road, so that he can go on to other things,” the official said.
Kerry met with President Obama while he was visiting Saudi Arabia last Friday, before the crisis in the negotiations, and briefed him. Since then, and particularly as the crisis escalated, he has been on the phone almost daily with Obama's national security advisor, Susan Rice.
Officially the White House is still backing Kerry. Deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes told the Post that Obama "was fully aware of Kerry’s interest and energy about the subject when he was chosen as secretary of state.”
According to him, on Obama's visit to Israel in 2013, the president "went out of his way to both re-energize his own commitment to this at the beginning of his second term and also to very, very demonstrably empower Kerry.”
“Frankly,” Rhodes told the Washington Post, “having a secretary of state who plays such an active role . . . has, to some extent, taken the burden off of us.”
Rhodes added that at this point in time the American administration will not disengage completely from the peace process. “There is no limit to the need to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians on this set of issues. . . . There is always going to be a reason to engage," he said.
“The broader question,” he said, “is how does this impact other things that we’re doing? If anything, Kerry has shown himself to be tireless, and still able to be fully invested in dealing with Ukraine, the Iran talks” and other issues. While there is an inevitable question of “whether he is able to do this and the other things on his plate,” Rhodes said, “thus far, in part because of his seemingly endless reservoir of energy and frequent-flier miles,” Kerry has pulled it off.