Kerry, key US interlocutor with Syria, to meet with PM

Netanyahu and US Senator expected to discuss regional unrest that has now spread to Syria and Israeli-Syrian mediation efforts.

By
March 21, 2011 01:44
3 minute read.
US Senator John Kerry in Cairo, Sunday.

john kerry in egypt_311 reuters. (photo credit: REUTERS)

US Senator John Kerry, who over the last few months has been trying to resuscitate Israeli-Syria talks, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this week, government sources confirmed Sunday.

Netanyahu is expected to meet Kerry, the chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee – and considered a close confidant of US President Barack Obama – sometime before going to Russia for some 24-hours on Wednesday evening.

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Netanyahu will meet with senior leaders during his first visit to Russia since last February, including President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Kerry is a frequent visitor to the region, and often couples visits here with trips to Damascus. In fact, Kerry has met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus five times over the last two years.

Among the issues Netanyahu and Kerry are expected to discuss is the regional unrest that has now also spread to Syria.

Kerry was last in Israel in January, and reportedly briefed Netanyahu on talks with Assad about what Haaretz described as a plan to restart Israeli-Syrian negotiations. According to this report, Kerry and Assad began drafting an unofficial position paper that would lay out the principles of future negotiations.

Netanyahu later confirmed that Kerry was involved in mediation efforts between Israel and Syria, but said those efforts were not new.



“If Syria truly wants peace, it will find in us a genuine partner to achieving that peace,” Netanyahu said in late February. “In this sense our goal has not changed following the events occurring in our region.”

Netanyahu said he hoped that Syria’s intention was “peace,” but that only time would tell.

Saying it was no secret that Kerry – as well as others – were trying to mediate between Israel and Syria, Netanyahu said “the problem remains how to conduct negotiations when Syria says, ‘Give me the fruits of negotiations as I want them before we start.’ This is a difficult problem, as you can imagine.”

Kerry, at a speech last Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said that the flood of change in the Middle East would have implications for Israel’s security, and – in clear reference to Egypt – said that countries which have historically enjoyed strong ties with Israel “may change their postures.”

The Democratic candidate in the 2004 US presidential elections said that a lasting peace was the only way to secure Israel’s security and regional stability. For this reason, he said, it was critical to revive the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

“To the extent Israelis found the security situation acceptable prior to the outbreak of unrest [in the region], the status quo with its neighbors is now unsustainable,” he said.

During that speech, Kerry characterized the changes taking place in the region as “one of the most momentous developments of our time,” and said the US had a crucial role to play in facilitating democratic transitions.

He said the US had a strong national interest in supporting emerging democracies in the region, adding that while the current Congressional climate may be opposed to foreign aid, “We can either pay now or pay later with increased threats to our national security.”

He said the way the US responds to the events now will shape Arab public opinion toward the US for decades.

Kerry also stressed that a failure to intervene on behalf of the Libyan people against Muammar Gaddafi would lead others in the region to question the US commitment to human rights and democracy.


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