Kerry ducks question about settlements, describes Obama visit as listening tour to learn ‘current state of possibilities’

Israel/Palestine
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Secretary of State John Kerry said his first telephone calls as secretary were to Israeli and Palestinian leaders and that the US was committed to the peace process, in remarks yesterday in Washington. But he ducked a question about settlements and said Obama’s first goal in going to the region is to listen. From the State Department press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. 

MS. NULAND: Last one today, from Nadia Bilbassy, MBC News, please.

QUESTION:… Mr. Secretary… And on the peace process, you know the Palestinians said that basically they won’t go to the negotiation unless they freeze the settlements, the Israelis freeze the settlements. This is a non-starter. How do you start? Where do you go from there?

Kerry:

let me start on the peace process first. I’m an optimist. If I weren’t an optimist, I wouldn’t have taken this job. And I have been engaged in, in one way or another, in – as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee in the initiatives through many presidents, through many secretaries of state, and in many discussions that I’ve had with people over the years, 29 years now, in the 29th year. I have learned that often things are not as they appear to be, and they’re not as bleak as they may seem if you approach things openly, honestly, creatively, and build on relationships.

I think that Minister Judeh would agree that I start this journey with some good relationships, and I believe that there are possibilities. The reason I called Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and President Peres, my first calls, was to emphasize that this is of a concern, and to listen to them, as to whether or not they believed there might be some things that we could do. In every case, there are hopes that there are things that we can do. And everybody understands that the United States of America is an indispensable entity with respect to that process. I understand that. The President understands that. And the President is not prepared, at this point in time, to do more than to listen to the parties, which is why he has announced he’s going to go to Israel. It affords him an opportunity to listen. And I think we start out by listening and get a sense of what the current state of possibilities are and then begin to make some choices.

It would be a huge mistake, almost an arrogant step, to suddenly be announcing this and that without listening first, so that’s what I intend to do, that’s what the President intends to do. And – but we are committed, as I’ve said to Minister Judeh and to others, to explore every possibility. The window is closing on this possibility. The region knows it. All the leaders I’ve talked to in the region have brought this topic up as a prime topic. And so it deserves our utmost consideration, and it will get that….

Judeh:

And I totally agree with him when he says that it’s listening mode, perhaps, for the U.S. But there’s agreement between us and the U.S. that the window is closing and that we have to move fast and we have to work together, and that this remains a priority and of paramount importance to all of us. Peace in the Middle East, I’ve said before in this room, is peace of mind for the rest of the world. This is not just a local and/or regional conflict. This is a global conflict with global ramifications and it remains a core central issue, as His Majesty the King says.

So we are extremely encouraged. I mean, the Secretary said that he’s optimistic, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken this job. I would like to say that I have to be optimistic because we live in the region. 

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