x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Kerry returns to Jordan for Mideast peace talks

US secretary of state makes sixth visit in months to brief Arab foreign ministers on progress towards getting Israeli and Palestinian leaders back to negotiations.

US secretary of state John Kerry arrives at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman.
US secretary of state John Kerry arrives at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman.

AMMAN // The United States secretary of state, John Kerry, launched a new round of Middle East diplomacy yesterday in a bid to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

On his sixth trip to the region in as many months, Mr Kerry travelled to Amman to see Arab foreign ministers and update them on his efforts to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

However, unlike his previous visits, he had no plan to travel to Israel or the Palestinian territories and US officials dampened expectations that there would be any kind of breakthrough or announcement on resuming direct talks.

Mr Kerry met the Jordanian foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, and then had a private one-on-one dinner with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who has a home in Amman. Mr Kerry is today expected to see the foreign ministers of Arab League nations that support a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace plan first proposed by Saudi Arabia.

He will meet Jordan's King Abdullah II as well as Arab League officials to "provide an update on Middle East peace" said Jen Psaki, the state department spokeswoman.

Since he took office on February 1, Mr Kerry has made a search for a long-elusive Middle East peace deal one of the top priorities of his tenure.

"The secretary would not be going back to the region if he did not feel there was an opportunity to keep making steps forward," Ms Psaki said.

But there were no immediate plans for Kerry to meet the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, unlike previous trips where he has shuttled between Amman and Jerusalem.

Last month Mr Kerry spent four days locked in intensive diplomacy seeking to coax the two sides to end a nearly three-year stalemate, and said "with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach".

On his last visit, Kerry asked two advisers to stay behind to consult with the Israelis and Palestinians. Frank Lowenstein and Jonathan Schwartz have been there for the past couple of weeks, the state department official said.

Mr Kerry has insisted that progress has been made but there have been few, if any, discernible signs that the two sides are getting closer to agreeing to discuss the major issues that divide them.

In addition to briefing the Arab ministers on the Israeli-Palestinian front, Mr Kerry will also focus on the political upheaval in Egypt, as violence flared again on the streets of Cairo leaving seven dead and 261 injured, as well as the conflict in Syria.

It was expected that Egypt, a key member of the Arab League, would be sending someone to join the meeting in Amman.


* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg News