US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Thursday that Israel's security is a top priority for Washington, both in nuclear talks with Iran
and peace talks with the Palestinians.
Kerry was in the region for a day of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders aimed at driving forward peace negotiations which appear to have made little headway since they began under his patronage in late July.
But Iran was also high on the agenda when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
for more than three hours in their first face-to-face meeting since political fallout over the Iran nuclear deal.
"I can't emphasize enough that Israel's security in this negotiation (with Iran) is at the top of our agenda," Kerry said at a joint news conference in Jerusalem.
"The United States will do everything in our power to make certain that Iran's nuclear program of weaponisation possibilities is terminated."
Kerry stressed the two men had spent "a very significant amount of time" discussing the peace talks with the Palestinians.
"Israel's security is fundamental to those negotiations," he said.
The US top diplomat reiterated the importance of security after a three-hour meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas
in the West Bank city of Ramallah later Thursday.
"We are not going to discuss this further publicly," Kerry told reporters afterwards, saying only that their discussions on security had made "progress".
"The interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity, which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis very serious questions of security.
"Shortly, perhaps in a week or so, I may return for further discussions, depending on where we are," Kerry added.
Abbas himself made no appearance after the meeting, but Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP that peace talks with Israel
"The situation is still very difficult and matters are complicated," he said.
"Abbas met Kerry for four hours... and discussed issues including security. We hope Israel will stick to its commitments and be forced to stop settlement building. Settlements are the reason for the difficulties in negotiations," Erakat said.
US special envoy on security General John Allen also briefed Netanyahu, Kerry said, including "potential threats to Israel (and) to the region".
US and Israeli media reports have suggested Allen was to present Netanyahu with an outline of how Israel's security arrangements might look under a peace deal, but a State Department official denied Allen had a ready-made plan.
Netanyahu said that under any peace agreement, Israel "must be able to defend itself, by itself, with our own forces" – an allusion to the reported debate over security in the Jordan
Valley, which separates the West Bank from neighboring Jordan.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon insisted Israel would not compromise on security in the valley and "not outsource its basic security needs to the Palestinians".
Israel's alarmist rhetoric on Iran, which commentators say also deliberately sidelines the Palestinian issue, was heavily criticized by a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service on Wednesday.
"The consequences of not having a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more existential than the Iranian nuclear project," Yuval Diskin told a conference in Tel Aviv.
"Israel must freeze settlement building immediately" in order to reach a much-needed agreement with the Palestinians, Diskin said.
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