On his second trip to the Middle East in two weeks, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Monday the U.S. won't stop Israel from taking whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Although the Obama administration still favors diplomacy, Mr. Kerry said, "No one will allow the diplomatic process to stand in the way of whatever choices need to be made to protect the world from yet another nuclear weapon in the wrong hands."
"We will continue to seek a diplomatic solution," Mr. Kerry told Israeli President Shimon Peres. "But our eyes are open, and we understand that the clock is moving."
Mr. Kerry's comments came on the heels of President Obama's visit to Israel last month, a trip in which Mr. Obama made similar representations about Iran to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel has been urging Mr. Obama to take more aggressive steps against Iran's nuclear ambitions, although Israeli leaders say they agree with the U.S. assessment that Iran is still more than a year away from developing nuclear weapon capability.
Mr. Kerry said Mr. Obama "doesn't bluff" about Iran.
"He is serious," Mr. Kerry said. "We will stand with Israel against this threat and with the rest of the world, who have underscored that all we are looking for is Iran to live up to its international obligations. No option will be taken off the table."
Mr. Kerry is devoting most of his efforts on this trip to reviving peace talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders. He said peace is possible if both sides are willing to address their "bottom-line concerns."
"If we can address the security needs of Israel — and they are real — and if we can address the state aspirations of the Palestinian people — and they are real — I believe that if we can get on a track where people are working in good faith to address the bottom-line concerns, it is possible to be able to make progress and make peace," Mr. Kerry told staffers at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.
The secretary of state is seeking to revive peace talks that have been dormant during Mr. Obama's presidency.
Sources told The Associated Press that Mr. Kerry is pushing a modification of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. That plan trades peace for settlement drawdown: If Israel pulls out of territories it captured during the 1967 Six-Day War, then the Palestinians would guarantee peace.
Mr. Kerry met Sunday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Monday he joined top Israeli officials at a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. He was expected to hold talks later Monday with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Mr. Peres, before dining with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr. Abbas made clear to Mr. Kerry that the release of prisoners held by Israel was a "top priority" for resuming peace talks, said Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina. The Palestinian leader also has said repeatedly there would be no return to negotiations without a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
As he spoke to staffers Monday in a garden at the U.S. Consulate, Mr. Kerry said the serene setting served as inspiration for his work.
"As you gather out here in this garden like this, I was listening to the birds sing, and you look at the light and you feel the peacefulness of this little enclave, and you obviously can't help but say to yourself, 'Why can't we have this everywhere?'" Mr. Kerry said. "And I believe we can. I really believe that, or I wouldn't have taken on this job at the request of the president; I wouldn't be back here for my multiple-whatever-umpteenth trip here as a senator and secretary, and for my third trip to the region as a secretary already."
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