Syria Tops Agenda as Kerry Arrives in Jerusalem

Washington’s top diplomat arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over plans to destroy Syria’s chemical arms and peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

After landing at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv at 8.25 a.m., US Secretary of State John Kerry headed straight to Jerusalem where he was scheduled to hold hours of talks with Israeli leader before leaving for Paris.

His arrival in Israel comes a day after Washington and Moscow reached a deal over eliminating Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons following three days of talks in Geneva with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu said he hoped the US-Russian accord would see a complete destruction of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons stockpile.

“We hope that the Russian-US agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons will bear fruit but the real test will be in its implementation: the full dismantling of the regime’s chemical weapons stockpile,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony marking 40 years since the Yom Kippur War.

Media reports said Sunday’s talks with Kerry would touch on the consequences for Israel of the Geneva agreement which gives Damascus a week to hand over details of its chemical arms stockpile in order to avoid sanctions and possible US-led military action.

Although Israel’s main newspapers hailed news of the US-Russian agreement, some commentators raised the question of Washington leaning on Israel to ratify the international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons.

“Kerry may tell Netanyahu the United States is working to remove one of the gravest threats on Israel’s security, by combining a credible military threat with creative diplomacy.

“Now, Kerry may say, the US needs Israel’s help by ratifying the treaty prohibiting the use of chemical weapons,” wrote Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz newspaper.

Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, but never ratified it, despite demands to do so from Washington and Moscow.

“Only when current Middle East becomes a completely new Middle East will we be able to sign on such a treaty,” former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman told army radio on Sunday, ruling out any such move at present.

On Friday, the State Department confirmed Syria would be on the agenda at Kerry’s Jerusalem talks as well as the ongoing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

The two men would discuss “the final status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians” after Kerry’s meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in London on September 9, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.

After becoming secretary of state in February, Kerry visited the region six times in four months in a bid to revive direct talks which last took place in September 2010 before running aground over the issue of settlements.

His efforts led to a series of key meetings in Washington on July 29 and 30 between PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, which triggered a formal resumption of talks in Jerusalem on August 14.

Despite the talks, the State Department has said it is too early to talk about a trilateral meeting.

(Agencies via Ma’an – www.maannews.net)

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