Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday hit back at criticism that the United States was retreating from the Middle East and the rest of the world.
“Far from disengaging, America is proud to be more engaged than ever, and, I believe, is playing as critical a role as ever in the pursuit of global peace, prosperity, and stability,” he told a gathering of political and business leaders in Switzerland.
Kerry highlighted US efforts to kickstart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a push to rid Syria of its chemical weapons and a landmark deal with Iran to rein in its nuclear program.
“Intensive, creative and strong diplomacy requires cooperation -? and that is exactly why the United States is so engaged in the Middle East and around the world, and why we will stay so,” the top US diplomat told the World Economic Forum meeting in the mountain town of Davos.
“As our friends and partners take courageous steps forward, they can be assured that President Obama and his administration will remain engaged for the long haul. But we will also confront these challenges with the urgency that they deserve. We dare not ?- and I can assure you we will not ?- miss this moment.”
Amid turbulence and upheaval across many Arab countries, including the war in Syria, the US administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East has been heavily criticised at home and by key Gulf allies for lacking focus.
Kerry keeping up pressure on Israeli-Palestinian peace process
Fresh from trying to push the Syrian opposition and the regime to start direct peace talks during a conference earlier this week, Kerry launched back into the faltering Middle East peace process.
He met Friday in Davos with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for almost two hours, during which they discussed ways to draw up a framework to guide the talks for the months ahead.
The US-brokered peace talks that began in July, after a three-year hiatus in direct negotiations, have faltered over seemingly irreconcilable demands from both sides, failing to bring any glimpse of a final agreement that would end decades of conflict.
Kerry, who has made 11 trips to Israel and the West Bank in his first year in office, is trying to hammer out a framework deal to chart the talks going forward, which would set down guidelines on the toughest issues such as the contours of a future Palestinian state and the fate of Jerusalem for the months ahead.
The two sides have agreed to stay at the negotiating table for nine months, until some time in late April.
“We have put the full range of resources of the US government behind this effort,” Kerry told the Davos forum.
But with the deadline looming, there has been mounting criticism by both Israelis and Palestinians as Kerry has pushed them to accept tough compromises.
Netanyahu said the meeting with Kerry had been very good, but he told Israeli reporters that neither a final accord nor a framework agreement was currently being discussed.
“The Americans are talking about their proposal for a framework to conduct negotiations. This is not an agreement we’re talking about, rather a route to enable progress,” Israeli media reported.
And he reiterated again that he would not evacuate any settlements in the Jordan Valley.
Netanyahu has amplified calls for Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, a demand Palestinian leaders reject, fearing this could preclude the right of return for Palestinian refugees who left or were driven into exile when the state of Israel was created in 1948.
Israeli President Shimon Peres on Friday reiterated comments by Netanyahu in a speech on Thursday, saying Israel was committed to Kerry’s peace drive.
“There are difficulties, but neither of us has an alternative in real terms,” Peres said at Davos, which he praised for having helped forge Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. “Israel offers in real terms a sincere peace,” he added.