‘The Status Quo is Unsustainable’: Kerry Defends His Mideast Diplomacy
Secretary of State John Kerry offered a wide-ranging defense of the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts across the Mideast, acknowledging that its ongoing talks with Iran, Syria and Israel had no guarantee of success but insisting that they offered the only real chance of bringing peace to one of the world’s most troubled regions. Kerry, speaking ...
Secretary of State John Kerry offered a wide-ranging defense of the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts across the Mideast, acknowledging that its ongoing talks with Iran, Syria and Israel had no guarantee of success but insisting that they offered the only real chance of bringing peace to one of the world's most troubled regions.
Secretary of State John Kerry offered a wide-ranging defense of the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts across the Mideast, acknowledging that its ongoing talks with Iran, Syria and Israel had no guarantee of success but insisting that they offered the only real chance of bringing peace to one of the world’s most troubled regions.
Kerry, speaking at an event sponsored by Foreign Policy and the State Department’s Policy Planning staff, focused much of his remarks on the administration’s controversial nuclear pact with Iran and its chemical weapon deal with Syria, but he also spoke passionately about his current push to secure a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry has invested enormous amounts of his time and personal prestige in the potentially quixotic effort to bring about an agreement that has eluded more than a half-dozen presidential administration and shows no signs of abandoning his personal devotion to the cause. The secretary of state spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice Wednesday and left for Israel Wednesday night for more meetings with Netanyahu and other top Israeli security officials.
In his remarks at the Foreign Policy event, Kerry said that he had worked on Mideast peace throughout his 30 years in the Senate and was well aware of how difficult it would be to broker an agreement. Still, he said the status quo was unsustainable because Israel faced a "demographic ticking time bomb" stemming from soaring Palestinian birth rates while Palestinian leaders were running out of time to show their people that non-violence could bring about tangible gains.
"I’ve heard all the arguments from all the pundits on all sides," Kerry told the crowd. "The conflict is too frozen. It’s too complicated. They don’t trust each other enough. There’s no way possible that there are the ingredients to try to make peace. It’s a fools errand to believe that the future could be better than the past. President Obama and I reject that cynicism."
Kerry came to the Foreign Policy event from Capitol Hill, where he had spent most of the day in classified meetings in the Senate as part of a full-on administration lobbying push designed to persuade lawmakers not to impose new punitive measures on Iran during the next six months of talks towards a comprehensive nuclear pact.
His trip to the Hill Wednesday came one day after he had taken a beating at a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, whose members assailed the nuclear deal and threatened to ignore the White House entreaties and impose new punitive measures on Iran. Both Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have warned that putting new sanctions in place now would derail the current negotiations and scuttle the interim deal reached in Geneva late last month.
The administration had notched a win Tuesday when Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson signaled a willingness to hold off on passing new measures targeting Iran’s oil sector while the talks continue. Other lawmakers have promised to continue fighting the White House, however. On Wednesday, however, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading defense hawk, said he would vote against the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act unless Senate leaders promised to allow a vote on an amendment imposing new Iran sanctions.
The legislative maneuvering didn’t come up in Kerry’s speech, which bounced from climate change to the sorry state of America’s airports, bridges and other infrastructure. Kerry also talked up the benefits of the country’s nascent alternative energy sector, which he cautioned was being hindered by the lack of a nationwide power network.
"America has a great big gaping hole right in the center of our country where we don’t have a grid," he said. "We don’t connect our energy."
Most of Kerry’s speech, though, focused on meat-and-potatoes issues like Iran, Syria, and the prospect of a long-shot deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Obama, Kerry said, "is committed to the process because he understands the possibilities of peace are dramatic and worth fighting for."
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