Syria Tops Agenda As Kerry Visits Israel


JERUSALEM (AFP) – Washington’s top diplomat on Sunday, after talks with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, warned Syria that it was not off the hook following a U.S.-Russian deal to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile.

On a whirlwind visit to Jerusalem for talks with Netanyahu on Syria and on peace talks with the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry made clear that the agreement with Moscow had not removed the option of a U.S.-led military strike.

“The threat of force remains, the threat is real,” Kerry said at a news conference after a four-hour meeting with the Israeli premier.

“Make no mistake, we have taken no options off the table,” he warned after news of the deal appeared to stave off the immediate military threat which emerged following a chemical attack last month on a Damascus suburb.

The agreement, signed in Geneva on Saturday after three days of talks between Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, dominated the news conference with both men saying little on the Palestinian issue.

Kerry arrived in Israel at 0825 GMT, and went straight into talks with Netanyahu, then headed straight back to the airport for a flight to Paris, which took off just after 1500 GMT, an AFP correspondent with the U.S. delegation said.

Although Kerry described the Geneva accord as “the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal effort” ever, he acknowledged it would “only be as effective as its implementation.”

His remarks echoed comments by Netanyahu at a ceremony marking 40 years since the Yom Kippur War, ahead of Kerry’s arrival in Jerusalem.

“We hope that the understandings that have been achieved between the US and Russia regarding Syria’s chemical weapons will show results,” Netanyahu said in remarks communicated by his office.

“Indeed, these understandings will be tested by results: the full destruction of the stocks of chemical weapons that the Syrian regime has used against its own people,” he said.

Speaking later as he stood next to Kerry, Netanyahu said stripping Syria of its chemical stockpile would make the region “a lot safer,” although he was quick to draw parallels with the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.

“The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction because, as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction they will use them,” he said. “If diplomacy has any chance to work it must be coupled with a credible military threat. What is true of… Syria is true of Iran.”

Ahead of Kerry’s flying visit to Jerusalem, which comes six days after he met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in London, the State Department said he would discuss “final status negotiations” with Netanyahu.

But Kerry kept his remarks on the peace talks to a minimum.

“We are convinced that the best way to try to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately,” he said. “We will not discuss the substance of what we are working on.”

Netanyahu also said little on the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

“We both know that this road is not an easy one but we’ve embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all,” he said, facing Kerry.

After becoming U.S. secretary of state in February, Kerry visited the region six times in four months in a bid to revive direct talks which last took place in September 2010 before running aground over the issue of Jewish settlements.

His efforts led to a series of key meetings in Washington on July 29 and 30 between Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, which triggered a formal resumption of talks in Jerusalem on August 14.

Despite the talks, the U.S. State Department has said it is too early to talk about a trilateral leadership meeting.


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