Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he will attend a Middle East peace conference in Paris next month that is an attempt to revive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
In a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, at the annual NATO spring meeting of foreign ministers, Kerry said he had assured French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that he would come to the conference, scheduled for June 3. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opposes the French initiative, because he is concerned it could try to dictate terms of a settlement instead of one forged in direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
But Kerry said he welcomed the French proposal because it could provide a “helpful” pathway back to negotiations.
“It is not inappropriate for countries, all of whom actually care about both parties, and care about peace, to want to try to come together in an effort to find a pathway that would be helpful,” he said. “In the end the parties have to negotiate. You can’t impose it on people. What we are seeking to do is encourage the parties to be able to see a way forward so they understand peace is a possibility.”
Early in his tenure as secretary of state, Kerry spent nine months trying to move negotiations forward, but the talks eventually collapsed in early 2014.
More recently, Kerry has tried to encourage more modest confidence-building measures to create an environment for talks to resume. But with the Obama administration’s months in office drawing to a close, U.S. officials have said they are not actively engaged in trying to relaunch peace talks.
Kerry also welcomed an offer by Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to mediate differences among Palestinian factions so talks could resume. Sisi promised warmer ties with Israel, with whom relations have been frosty despite a peace agreement signed in 1979, if a settlement could be reached with Palestinians.