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Israel security a priority in talks on peace, Iran: Kerry
Agence France Presse
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media after his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in the Wet Bank City of Ramallah, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Kerry is visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace and to consult Israeli officials about Iran.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media after his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in the Wet Bank City of Ramallah, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Kerry is visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace and to consult Israeli officials about Iran.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
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JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Thursday that Israel's security is a top priority for Washington, both in nuclear talks with Iran and peace talks with the Palestinians.

Kerry was in the region for a day of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders aimed at driving forward peace negotiations which appear to have made little headway since they began under his patronage in late July.

But Iran was also high on the agenda when he met for more than three hours with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what was their first face-to-face meeting since a fallout over the Iran nuclear deal.

"I can't emphasise enough that Israel's security in this negotiation (with Iran) is at the top of our agenda," Kerry said at a joint news conference in Jerusalem.

"The United States will do everything in our power to make certain that Iran's nuclear programme of weaponisation possibilities is terminated."

Kerry stressed the two men had spent "a very significant amount of time" discussing the peace talks with the Palestinians.

"Israel's security is fundamental to those negotiations," he said.

The US top diplomat reiterated the importance of security after a three-hour meeting with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah later in the day.

"We are not going to discuss this further publicly," Kerry told reporters after the meeting, saying only that their discussions on security had made "progress."

"I think the interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity, which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis very serious questions of security.

"Shortly, perhaps in a week or so, I may return for further discussions, depending on where we are," Kerry added.

Abbas himself made no appearance after the meeting.

US special envoy on security General John Allen also briefed Netanyahu, Kerry said, including "potential threats to Israel (and) to the region".

US and Israeli media reports have suggested Allen was to present Netanyahu with an outline of how Israel's security arrangements might look under a peace deal.

A State Department official said the US update would include "many details and specifics" but denied Allen was to present Netanyahu with a ready-made plan.

'Israel must be able to defend self'

Netanyahu said that in any peace agreement, Israel "must be able to defend itself, by itself, with our own forces" -- an allusion to the reported debate over security in the Jordan Valley, which separates the West Bank from neighbouring Jordan.

Israel has always insisted that in any final agreement, it would have to maintain a military presence in the valley, and has rejected outright the idea of any third party involvement.

According to a report in Maariv newspaper, Allen was to have outlined a "bridging proposal" which will enable Israel to reduce, as much as possible, its military presence in the Jordan Valley.

But deputy defence minister Danny Danon insisted Israel would not compromise on security in the valley and "not outsource its basic security needs to the Palestinians".

And he said the Jewish state would not accept another "bad deal" -- a reference to the interim deal struck between major powers and Iran in Geneva last month.

"After the debacle in Geneva, we will not allow Secretary Kerry to pressure us into another bad deal.

"We have been down this road before," he said, alluding to the barrage of rocket fire which followed Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

"We will never compromise on our security, even if it means saying no to our closest ally."

Israel's alarmist rhetoric on Iran, which commentators say also deliberately sidelines the Palestinian issue, was heavily criticised by a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service on Wednesday.

"The consequences of not having a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more existential than the Iranian nuclear project," Yuval Diskin told a conference in Tel Aviv.

"Israel must freeze settlement building immediately" in order to reach a much-needed agreement with the Palestinians, Diskin said.

 
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