JERUSALEM: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that America would support Iraq as it combats al-Qaida-linked militants who have seized cities in the country's west, but said the U.S. wouldn't send troops, calling the battle "their fight."
Kerry made the comments as he left Jerusalem for Jordan and Saudi Arabia on Sunday to discuss his effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He's had three days of lengthy meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But the peace negotiations likely will be overshadowed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant seizing control of Fallujah and Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. Ramadi was a stronghold of Sunni insurgents during the U.S.-led war. Al-Qaida militants largely took both cities over last week and have been fending off incursions by government forces there since.
ISIL is also one of the strongest rebel units in Syria, where it has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds and kidnapped and killed anyone it deems critical of its rule. Also on Saturday, it claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon.
In comments before leaving Jerusalem, Kerry told journalists that the U.S. was "very, very concerned" by the fighting, calling the group "the most dangerous players in that region."
"We will stand with the government of Iraq and with others who will push back against their efforts to destabilize," Kerry said. "We are going to do everything that is possible. I will not go into the details."
Kerry added: "We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight."
America's top diplomat is in the region trying to keep peace talks on track between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry has said that progress is being made, yet key hurdles are yet to be overcome.
"Now is not the time to get trapped in the sort of up and down of the day-to-day challenges," Kerry said Sunday. "We don't have the luxury of dwelling on the obstacles that we all know could distract us from the goal. ... What we need to do is lift our sights and look ahead and keep in mind the vision of what can come if we can move forward."
Kerry is trying to nudge Abbas and Netanyahu closer to a peace pact that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The talks have entered an intense phase aimed at getting the two sides to agree on a framework and provide guidance toward a final settlement. Reaching a deal on that framework is not expected on this trip, Kerry's 10th to the region for peace talks.
Ahead of Kerry's arrival in the region this week, Israel had said it would announce plans to build 1,400 new Jewish settlement homes. But Israel backed off making the announcement, at least while Kerry was around.
Kerry's talks on Sunday with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah also are likely to touch on the war in Syria and Iran's nuclear program.