john kerry

Secretary Kerry to skip Israel in first trip

by Julian Pecquet, The Hill  |  published on February 22, 2013

John Kerry will skip Israel as part of his first trip abroad as secretary of State, the Obama administration announced Tuesday.

Kerry had been widely expected to visit Israel and the West Bank and push for restarting peace talks with the Palestinians ahead of President Obama’s own expectations-laden trip to the country next month. Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have had a frosty relationship characterized by tensions over Israeli settlement construction and Iran’s alleged nuclear program, with some Democrats accusing Netanyahu of rooting for Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election.

Instead, Kerry will be visiting nine European and Middle Eastern capitals over 10 days starting Sunday, focusing in large part on the civil war in Syria. When it comes to the crucial Israeli relationship, he’ll be playing a supporting role to Obama, who will make his first trip to the Jewish state and the West Bank as president next month.

“Given the fact that the government’s coalition negotiations in Israel are still under way,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday, “the secretary will be traveling there with the president when he visits later in the spring, in lieu of making his own separate trip in February to Jerusalem and Ramallah.”

Kerry will first go on a tour of Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Qatar from Feb. 24 until March 6. The 23-month-old insurgency against Syrian President Bashar Assad, in which 60,000 people have died, will be front and center when he meets with world leaders, notably in Italy, Turkey and Qatar, one of the main supporters of the insurgency.

In Rome, Kerry will participate in a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the civil war in Syria. The Obama administration has been under increasing pressure to arm the rebels following revelations that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta urged such a policy last summer. Kerry has said he’s considering a range of options as the new head of the State Department and would talk to Syria’s neighbors before advocating next steps.

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