April 3, 2013

Kerry to travel to Mideast this weekend

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON  — Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Turkey and Israel this weekend to build on the two nations' efforts to repair ties, U.S. and Turkish officials said Wednesday.

Kerry had planned to depart next week for meetings in London and then South Korea, China and Japan. But he moved up his departure to Saturday to build on the rapprochement that President Barack Obama brokered between Turkey and Israel during his visit to the region two weeks ago, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the trip had not been announced.

Kerry will also discuss regional concerns, including Syria and the Mideast peace process.

Turkey and Israel were once strong allies, but relations have been badly strained since Israel's 2010 raid on a Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza that left eight Turks and one Turkish-American dead.

Last month, Obama helped broker a call from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which Netanyahu apologized for the botched raid.

Turkey had demanded an apology as a condition for restoring ties. Netanyahu had until then refused to apologize, saying Israeli soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists.

Israeli media reports suggested that Kerry would be pressing Israel to make a goodwill gesture, perhaps the release of a small number of Palestinian prisoners, that could lead to a restart of peace talks with the Palestinians. They quoted an anonymous Israeli official, who declined to say whether Israel is planning a firm offer. But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the U.S. had not announced Kerry's trip, said Israel remains ready for "reciprocal and mutual confidence-building measures that can bolster the process."


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