WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John Kerry headed to the Middle East on Saturday, his third trip to the region in two weeks, in a fresh bid to unlock long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Istanbul was the first leg of a six-nation trip that will see him travel on to Europe and Asia.
From Turkey, he planned to go to Jerusalem for meetings with the presidents and prime ministers of both Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry accompanied President Barack Obama there last month and made a solo trip to Israel shortly after.
Though expectations are low for any breakthrough on Kerry’s trip, his diplomacy represents some of the Obama administration’s most sustained efforts for ending more than six decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Kerry probably will seek confidence-building measures between the two sides. Negotiators and observers see little chance right now for immediate progress on the big stumbling blocks toward a two-state peace agreement.
He may have more success on his first stop persuading Turkish leaders to continue improving ties with Israel. The two countries were once allies, but relations spiraled downward after Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American died.
Hopes for rapprochement improved after Obama brokered a telephone conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while Obama was in Israel.
In Turkey, Kerry also will coordinate with Erdogan and other Turkish officials on efforts to halt the violence in neighboring Syria.
Kerry will also visit Britain and then South Korea, China and Japan, where talks will focus on North Korea’s nuclear program and escalating threats against the U.S. and its allies.
He is scheduled to return to Washington on April 15.