John Kerry has discussed Middle East peace with Mahmoud Abbas. Chuck Hagel (right) is using his first visit to Israel as defense chief to tell the country it must decide for itself whether to use force against Iran.
US Secretary of State Kerry and Palestinian President Abbas met for an hour and a half to discuss ways to improve West Bank living conditions as a confidence-building measure to improve the atmosphere for a resumption in stalled peace talks with Israel. Kerry had previously said he fears that there is only a two- or three-year window to reach a deal on a two-state solution to end the decades-old conflict. He met with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several times since becoming secretary of state.
Kerry's next scheduled stop is with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to focus on restoring Ankara's once-close ties with Israel. Officials from the two countries will meet on Monday for talks on compensation over a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
During his own visit to Istanbul, Abbas was also to meet with Erdogan, who had sparked concern by announcing his intention to visit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip next month. The West Bank-based nationalist Fatah movement, led by Abbas and a longtime rival to the Islamist Hamas, has criticized Erdogan's Gaza trip as fostering intra-Palestinian divisions.
En route to the first stop of his five-country Middle East tour, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters that the United States and Israel have differences over whether Iran might decide to go ahead with building a bomb. Israel is particularly skeptical of claims by Iran that its nuclear program is purely for energy purposes.
Despite airing some differences, Hagel also said that Israel had a right to defend itself, and that the two countries share the objective of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He said that a planned weapons deal with Israel should send a message.
"I don't think there's any question that's another very clear signal to Iran," Hagel said.
Hagel's first visit to the Middle East as Pentagon chief will also take him to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He will discuss a set of arms deals with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth $10 billion (7.65 billion euros). Yet to be finalized, the transactions would provide those countries with a range of weaponry, including aircraft and missiles.
Sunday's talks are also expected to focus on Syria's civil war.
mkg/msh (AFP, AP)