Kerry Confirms He Will Attend Paris Meeting Ahead of Planned Mideast Peace Summit

The Paris gathering of foreign ministers on the stalemate in the peace process is scheduled to take place on June 3.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gives a press conference during a foreign affairs ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on May 19, 2016.
John Thys, AFP

A gathering of foreign ministers on the stalemate in the peace process initiated by France is set to take place in Paris on June 3, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed on Thursday that he will attend the meeting. Following Kerry's confirmation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to also attend the meeting. The two's attendance will significantly bolster the diplomatic importance of the meeting, and is a boost to the French government regarding its promotion of its peace initiative. 

The foreign ministers' meeting will constitute one of the preparatory steps for the international peace conference the French government wishes to hold by the end of the year.

In a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels Kerry said that the United States welcomes the French peace initiative and confirmed he will attend the preliminary foreign ministers' meeting. He refused however to admit to an American failure in its efforts to promote peace in the Middle East.

"It is the failure of those countries themselves to come back to the table," he said. "In the end, the parties have to want to negotiate. You can't impose it on them."

Kerry also recognized the important role Egypt plays in efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and congratulated Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi for his speech earlier this week. Kerry said he will work with France as well as with any other international body in an attempt to resume peace talks.

The gathering of foreign ministers, which is to take place without the participation of Israel and the Palestinians, was first set by the French for May 30, and they had already sent out invitations to more than 20 countries. However, shortly afterward it was discovered that the U.S. and Russian administrations weren’t pleased that the move was launched without closer coordination with them.

The Americans and the Russians weren’t quick to confirm their attendance, casting doubt on the meeting taking place. After long deliberations, the Americans understood that it would be impossible to prevent the foreign ministers' meeting and to stop the process that the French began.

Kerry met with his counterpart, Ayrault, in Paris a week and a half ago and said that he wouldn’t be able to attend the original date set for May 30. He said he would favorably consider attending the meeting if the date were changed, leading the French to decide to do so. 

Kerry's attendance is bad news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is vehemently opposed to the French initiative. On Tuesday, Netanyahu spoke with Kerry on the phone and expressed fierce opposition to the French initiative. Kerry, on his part, clarified to the prime minister in their conversation that if a more convenient time will be found he would attend the event.

Ayrault visited Israel on Sunday and heard a cool response from Netanyahu to the French peace initiative. Ayrault said at a press conference at Ben-Gurion Airport prior to his departure that despite Netanyahu's objections, France will carry on promoting the move, which he said would serve Israel's interests.

"We aren't giving up, and neither are our partners," Ayrault said following his meetings with Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday. "Netanyahu said he only wanted direct negotiations, but that option is stalled."

The French foreign minister said that France was a supporter of Israel and that it protected Israel's interests in the negotiations with Iran. Promoting the peace process, he said, would serve Israel's security. He warned that if nothing is done, the entire region would fall in the hands of ISIS. "Action must be taken," he said.

Ayrault said that the summit clearly won't replace direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, as he also mentioned in his talks with Netanyahu and Abbas, but added that there's a need to intervene. "The goal is to help return to negotiations," he said.