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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, February 05, 2013 2:14 pm

THE RESET: Kerry may push new Mideast peace effort

By TOM RAUMAssociated Press

Nearly all American presidents since the 1970s have tried to broker peace deals in the Middle East. With John Kerry now at the State Department helm, President Barack Obama may try again.

But as other presidents and Obama himself have learned, it's an elusive goal - often seeming within grasp then receding.

There have been some successes - Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 that President Jimmy Carter helped negotiate, and Jordan signed one with Israel in 1994 under President Bill Clinton's efforts.

But both Clinton and President George W. Bush later failed in second-term efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Obama tried to restart new direct Israel-Palestinian peace talks in September 2010, but negotiations stalled largely over the expansion of Jewish West Bank settlements.

Kerry, who will be ceremonially sworn in Wednesday as secretary of state, has indicated a keen interest in a new diplomatic push in the region.

Of course, secretaries of state don't make foreign policy; presidents do. So a lot depends on how much leeway Obama gives him.

"We need to find a way forward, and I happen to believe there is a way forward" toward an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, Kerry told his Senate confirmation hearing.

He spoke over the weekend by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu has said he wants to advance peace talks with the Palestinians.

On Tuesday, Kerry visited the department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, where he discussed recent developments in the region including the U.S. role in Libya.

Kerry is expected to make Israel and other Middle Eastern nations early travel destinations.

And Obama won't be far behind.

Obama plans to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in the spring, marking his first visit there since becoming president, the White House said Tuesday. The president spoke about the visit with Netanyahu last week when congratulating him on his success in Israel's recent election. No trip dates were released.

Obama visited Israel while running for president in 2008, but he hasn't been back since, even though he's been to other countries in the region.


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