Middle East

Kerry postpones Mideast visit: U.S. official

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, flashes a thumbs up during the official photo opportunity at the 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

WASHINGTON: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had planned to visit the region this week for talks with Israelis and Palestinians, has postponed his trip, a top official said Monday. “Kerry has postponed [his] trip to attend meetings in Washington,” a State Department official told AFP in an email, asking not to be identified.

It would have been Kerry’s fifth trip to the region since making the resumption of peace talks a priority of his tenure in office.

The postponement of the trip will be seen as a blow, amid fears it could spell trouble for his peacemaking efforts, even though the visit had never been officially announced by the State Department.

But reports had been leaked out, with the visit flagged on a tentative schedule from the office of Israeli President Shimon Peres which said the two men would meet Tuesday.

Palestinian officials also had announced he would meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Thursday.

Kerry issued a stark warning last week that if efforts to kickstart the peace negotiations, frozen since 2010, fail now there may not be another chance.

“We are running out of time. We’re running out of possibilities. ... If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance,” he told a forum in Washington organized by the American Jewish Community lobbying group.

He has warned leaders on both sides that they now need to take the “tough decisions” to get back to the negotiating table.

According to Israel HaYom, a newspaper considered close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kerry had been due to arrive Tuesday, but put off the visit “to give [Abbas] more time” to decide whether to drop his insistence on a settlement freeze, before talks resume.

Israel has demanded an immediate return to talks “without preconditions” while refusing to publicly freeze settlement building.

Kerry was likely to reschedule his visit for the following week, the Israeli paper said, although that was not confirmed by Israeli or U.S. officials.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 11, 2013, on page 9.




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