Middle East

Kerry pledges 'fair' Mideast plan, briefs Arab allies

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center left, and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal arrive for a meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Rawdat al-Khuraim, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

RIYADH: Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday rejected Israeli and Palestinian claims of US bias as he made a whistlestop trip to Jordan and Saudi Arabia to woo support for his peace plan.

Kerry promised any agreed plan would be "fair and balanced" and likened his efforts to broker a compromise between the conflicting demands of the two sides to a puzzle.

"In the end all of these core issues fit together like a mosaic, like a puzzle and you can't separate out one piece or another," Kerry said in Jerusalem before flying to Amman, and later Saudi Arabia.

Each piece was interlinked, he stressed, and depended on the compromises the other side might be prepared to make.

"And there's always tension as to when you put your card on the table as to which piece you're willing to do, when and how," said Kerry.

But he warned his efforts could ultimately fail, saying he could not tell when "the last pieces may decide to fall into place, or may fall on the floor, and leave the puzzle unfinished.

"That's exactly what makes this such a challenge."

On the fourth day of his long trip to the region, Kerry briefed the key Jordanian and Saudi stakeholders about his intense shuttling between Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

In Amman he spent more than an hour of talks with King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

A senior State Department official said Kerry had wanted to "seek their counsel on the discussion with the Israelis and Palestinians about a framework for final status negotiations".

He then travelled to Saudi Arabia for almost three hours of talks with King Abdullah.

At Riyadh airport before leaving, Kerry said the monarch had backed his framework.

"I am grateful that the Arab League as a whole and Saudi Arabia individually will be significantly involved in helping build support for this effort," he said.

"Today his majesty was not just encouraging, but supported our efforts in the hopes that we can be successful in the days ahead."

Guardianship of Muslim sites

Jordan borders the occupied West Bank, and under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel is recognised as playing a historic role in the guardianship of Muslim sites in east Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah was the author of a 2002 Arab League peace initiative, which Kerry praised again Sunday as holding out the prospect for "instantaneously" reaching peace between Israel and "22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, all of whom have said they will recognise Israel if peace is achieved".

Saudi Arabia has, however, been notably frustrated by America's perceived lack of action to halt the war in Syria, and the conflict was also likely to have been addressed in Sunday's talks.

Kerry kicked-started nine months of direct peace negotiations in July after a three-year hiatus. But Israeli and Palestinian officials have both traded accusations in recent days.

"The Palestinians are continuing their campaign of inciting hatred, as we have seen in the last few days with their refusal to recognise Israel as a state for the Jewish people," Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday.

"This is the main issue that we're discussing with (Kerry). Among other key topics are Israel's security, which must remain in its hands," he added, in comments broadcast by public radio.

He was speaking after a Palestinian source said Washington was proposing a mixed Israeli-Palestinian military presence to ensure security in the Jordan Valley, without setting a deadline when Israeli troops would be withdrawn.

But Kerry, due back in Jerusalem late Sunday, insisted: "I can guarantee all parties that President (Barack) Obama and I are committed to putting forward ideas that are fair, that are balanced, and that improve the security of all the people of this region."

A peace treaty would deal with all the divisive core issues, including the contours of a future Palestinian state, refugees, the fate of Jerusalem claimed by both as a capital, security and mutual recognition.

A cabinet member close to Netanyahu also underlined Israeli rejection of any US-proposed security concessions for the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan.

"Anyone who proposes a solution in the Jordan Valley by deploying an international force, Palestinian police or technological means... does not understand the Middle East," Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said.





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