US Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Middle East on his third trip to the region in just two weeks in a fresh effort to unlock long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Kerry departed yesterday for Istanbul, the first leg of a six-nation trip that is to see him travel on to Europe and East Asia. From there, he heads to Jerusalem for meetings with the presidents and prime ministers of both Israel and the Palestinians — after accompanying US President Barack Obama there last month and making a solo trip to the Jewish state shortly after that.
Though expectations are low for any breakthrough on Kerry’s trip, his diplomacy represents some of the Obama administration’s most sustained efforts for ending more than six decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Kerry is likely to seek confidence-building measures between the two sides, with negotiators and observers seeing little chance for immediate progress on the big obstacles toward a two-state peace agreement.
He may have more success on his first stop persuading Turkish leaders to continue improving ties with Israel. The two countries were once allies, but relations spiraled downward after Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American died.
Hopes for rapprochement improved after Obama brokered a telephone conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while Obama was in Israel.
In Turkey, Kerry also is to coordinate with Erdogan and other Turkish officials on efforts to halt the violence in neighboring Syria’s civil war.
Kerry is also set to visit Britain and then South Korea, China and Japan, where talks will focus on North Korea’s nuclear program and escalating threats against the US and its allies. He is scheduled to return to Washington on Monday next week.