WASHINGTON: Secretary of State John Kerry will bypass Israel on his first official trip to the Middle East, U.S. officials said Tuesday as they announced a jam-packed itinerary through nine nations, including several in Europe.
Kerry’s maiden voyage begins Sunday. He will visit close U.S. allies and partners in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. His diplomacy will focus on the conflicts in Mali, Syria and Afghanistan, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
But there will be no stops in Israel or the Palestinian territories, which together have formed an epicenter of American diplomatic efforts over the past six decades.
Nuland said the U.S. was waiting for Israeli political parties to form a new government after their recent elections. “The Israelis are still working on their coalition,” she said, adding that Kerry won’t travel to Jerusalem or Ramallah until this spring — when he accompanies President Barack Obama to the region.
The announcement will likely dampen any lingering hopes that the Obama administration might unveil a fresh initiative to revive the moribund Mideast peace process.
The State Department never formally announced Kerry stops in Israel or the West Bank on his first trip, but officials had included them among the most likely destinations.
Kerry, who is scheduled to return to Washington on March 6, will meet first with senior British officials in London. He’ll then discuss trans-Atlantic issues with German youth in Berlin.
In Paris, Kerry will discuss France’s ongoing intervention in Mali. And in Rome, he’ll attend a meeting with Syrian opposition leaders. He will continue Syria diplomacy in meetings in Cairo; Ankara, Turkey; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Doha, Qatar.