- By Josh Rogin
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman will go to Israel and Jordan next week in advance of the visit there by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, the State Department said Wednesday.
"Following the P5+1 talks in Kazakhstan with Iran on its nuclear program, Under Secretary Sherman is traveling from February 28-March 4 to Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, where she will meet with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Foreign Ministers," the office of outgoing State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. The statement didn’t say what Sherman would do there or whom she would meet.
Kerry and Obama will visit Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan later in March. Kerry will not visit those countries on his current nine-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East, but he will be in that region with stops in Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar in the next few days,
Several State Department sources told The Cable that Kerry had wanted to visit Israel on his maiden voyage as secretary of state. There was a back and forth between the State Department and the White House. Ultimately, the decision was made that Kerry and Obama would visit Israel together.
In a press briefing earlier this month, Nuland said that Kerry wasn’t going on his own because the Israeli government was still in the process of getting set up after the last round of elections.
"Given the fact that the government coalition negotiations in Israel are still underway, the secretary will be traveling there with the president when he visits later in the spring in lieu of making his own separate trip in February to Jerusalem and Ramallah," she said.
Former Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, now with the Wilson Center, told The Cable that it was wise of the administration not to send Kerry to Israel before the Obama visit.
"By going to Israel before the president, Kerry would risk exposing himself as not a serious player and taking away the president’s own fire. All eyes should be on Obama. Not only is that the way Obama wants it; that’s also the best approach to take," he said.
What matters now concerning Israel is whenObama sits down with the Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu for a private conversation, they test their capacity to reach understandings with one another on Iran and the Palestinian issue, Miller said.
"Kerry’s relationship with Bibi isn’t broken; Obama’s is. So too, the president needs to have a public conversation with the Israeli people and to personalize his often remote, detached persona. John Kerry can’t do either of these things; nor should he be expected to," he said.