ISTANBUL - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday the United States had told Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan it would be better for him to delay a planned trip to the Gaza Strip expected at the end of May.
Erdogan, who has for years spoken of his desire to visit the Palestinian enclave, said last week he would go there after an official visit to the United States next month. But Kerry said a Turkish visit might distract from efforts to revive Middle East peace talks.
"We thought that the timing of it is really critical with respect to the peace process we are trying to get off the ground and that we would like to see the parties begin with as little outside distraction as possible," Kerry told a news conference in Istanbul.
The planned trip also would come at a sensitive time for Turkish-Israeli relations, with Washington keen to avoid spoiling a rapprochement between them following an Israeli apology in March for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Istanbul over the weekend to also ask Erdogan to cancel his plans to visit Gaza.
“President Abbas is hoping to convince Erdogan to cancel the visit or delay it until the Palestinians achieve national unity,” a PA official in Ramallah said last week.
The PA believes that a visit by Erdogan to Gaza would deepen Palestinian divisions, said Azzam al-Ahmed, member of the Fatah Central Committee and a close adviser to Abbas.
Erdogan had been expected to visit Gaza this month but postponed his trip at the request of the United States. He will travel to Washington to meet President Barack Obama on May 16.
While in Istanbul, Kerry and Abbas met on Sunday in an effort to get restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Hurriyet Daily News reported.
The two will "continue the conversation that they've been having for several weeks now about how to get both sides back to the table," a US State Department official was quoted as saying.
Khaled Abu Tomeh contributed to this report.