US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Israel next week for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking to calm tensions with the Jewish state over the Iran nuclear deal.
Kerry will also travel to Ramallah for talks with the Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas as he tries to keep delicate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations on track, a US official said Wednesday.
The Middle East leg of the December 3-6 trip will come after the globetrotting top US diplomat first attends a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels next Tuesday, and then travels to Moldova as well.
“In Chisinau, Secretary Kerry will meet with senior Moldovan officials. He will discuss bilateral issues, as well as Moldova’s path toward European integration,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
But the toughest leg will be his return to Israel and the West Bank — his eighth overnight visit since he became secretary of state in February.
Netanyahu has angrily denounced the weekend deal struck in Geneva with Iran to rein in its nuclear program as “an historic mistake.”
He insists that any deal with Tehran must have the sole purpose of dismantling Iran’s military nuclear capability.
And he is sending his security advisor, Yossi Cohen, to Washington for talks on the details of the six-month interim accord under which Iran will freeze parts of its suspect nuclear program in return for limited sanctions relief.
Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, has refused to rule out military action to halt Iran’s nuclear drive.
“Secretary Kerry will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss a range of issues including Iran and the negotiations with the Palestinians,” Psaki said.
The talks, relaunched earlier this year, have faltered amid Israeli plans for new settlement building.
The moves have angered the Palestinian negotiation team, which in November presented its resignation to Abbas. But the Palestinian leader has yet to accept them in a move which some say is designed to avoid responsibility if the talks collapse.
Kerry last visited Israel and the West Bank in early November, when he held marathon talks with Netanyahu on the peace process. After spending a day in Jordan he then flew back to Tel Aviv for two more hours of talks with the Israeli leader, before heading to Geneva talks on Iran.