AMMAN (AFP) – Top U.S. diplomat John Kerry met his Jordanian counterpart Tuesday for talks focused on the turmoil in Egypt and Syria as well as his bid to unlock the Middle East peace process.
Arriving on an overnight flight from Washington, the Secretary of State first held talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh before a private dinner with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
On Wednesday he will meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II as well as Arab League officials to “provide an update on Middle East peace,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
With violence flaring again on the streets of Cairo leaving seven dead and 261 injured, he was also expected to discuss the situation following the July 3 ouster of Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian military.
Egypt, a powerful member of the Arab League, was expected to send someone to the Amman talks, but it was not known exactly who would represent the interim government as a new 35-member cabinet was sworn in Tuesday.
Caretaker prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi was sworn in alongside a former ambassador to Washington, Nabil Fahmy, who becomes the interim foreign minister.
As he met with his Jordanian counterpart, Kerry expressed an interest in visiting one of the refugee camps in Jordan sheltering a flood of refugees from the conflict in Syria, now in its third year.
Jordan has taken in some 550,000 refugees fleeing the fighting as rebels seek to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
But the influx of so many people is putting a huge strain on the small Arab nation’s already struggling economy.
Kerry told Judeh he was “happy to be back” on his sixth visit to the region.
“I think we may wind up visiting one of the refugee camps as we talk about Syria. We were just chatting about the importance of that,” he added.
“We have lots of bilateral issues to discuss and of course many challenges that we face in this region,” replied Judeh, saying they would discuss “the humanitarian spillover of the crisis and its effects on Jordan’s economy.”
Kerry’s team has yet to finalise plans for any refugee camp visit.
Since he took office on February 1, Kerry has made a search for a long-elusive Middle East peace deal one of the top priorities of his tenure.
But U.S. officials have downplayed hopes that his return to the region signalled there may be an announcement on a resuming the talks, frozen since September 2010.
And there were no immediate plans for Kerry to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unlike previous trips where he has shuttled between Amman and Jerusalem.
Last month the secretary of state spent four days locked in intensive diplomacy seeking to coax the two sides to end a nearly three-year stalemate, and said “with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach.”
He left behind a team of senior U.S. officials who have been working to remove the last hurdles to fresh talks meeting with officials from both sides.
But the crises in Syria and Egypt once again appear to be crowding out his agenda.
“Because the Syrian Opposition Coalition elections just took place and there’s new Syrian opposition leadership, there is likely to be a discussion on Syria as well, to take advantage of the fact that a variety of Arab foreign ministers will be with him in Amman,” a senior U.S. official told reporters.
Plans to bring together the opposition and the Syrian regime in a peace conference have stalled, and it is now unlikely the so-called Geneva II talks will happen before September.
The political convulsion in Egypt is fuelling concerns of destabilisation in one of the Arab world’s key members.
Overnight clashes in the heart of Cairo and in adjacent Giza were the first to rock the Egyptian capital since dozens of Morsi supporters were shot dead outside an elite army barracks early last week.
They came just hours after Under Secretary of State Bill Burns — the most senior U.S. official to visit since the army toppled the elected Islamist president — appealed for an end to the violence rocking the Arab world’s most populous nation.