KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that he's set no ad hoc deadline for making concrete progress in talks between Israel and the Palestinians that he's continuing this week, but that long before September there needs to be some kind of progress shown.
The U.N. General Assembly, which reconvenes in September, voted overwhelmingly in November to upgrade the Palestinians from U.N. observer to non-voting member state. The Palestinians have said that if attempts at reaching an accord between the two sides fail, they would pursue a strategy of international recognition on their own, which would make finding peace in the decades-long conflict more elusive.
Kerry spoke during a news conference with Kuwait's emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah. Later Wednesday, he was heading to Amman, Jordan, which he will use as a base for diplomacy with Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian officials. It is Kerry's fifth visit to the region since becoming secretary of state earlier this year.
"The time is getting near where we need to make some judgments. Last time, I was here, I said it's time for leaders to make some hard decisions," Kerry said. "That stands. It is time. Why is it urgent? It's urgent because time is the enemy of a peace process."
"I don't want to trap myself or any of the principals in this with arbitrary — or somewhat ad hoc time limits," Kerry said.
But he added: "Long before September we need to be showing some kind of progress in some way. ... That's why I'm here for this visit and I hope it can be productive."
Kerry has been shuttling between the Israelis and the Palestinians in search of a formula to restart talks. So far, there have been no signs of a breakthrough.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is being propelled toward a stark choice that could come as soon as next week, define his legacy and set the course for his people in their conflict with Israel. Abbas' aides fear he's being pushed by the U.S. into dropping his conditions for negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli settlements are at the heart of the heart of the nearly five-year impasse in Mideast peace efforts. The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Israel continues to construct settlements in territory they seek for a future state. Netanyahu says the fate of the settlements should be resolved in negotiations, and talks should resume immediately without any preconditions. The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which were captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future state.
"We come at this carefully. We have been working towards, hopefully an understanding that allows everybody to move forward, notwithstanding the difficulties that people face in the politics of their own countries," he said. "Why am I confident that something can be done? Because I believe peace is understood by them — both of them — to be urgent."
On Syria, Kerry acknowledged that getting a transitional government set up was a "hard lift."
But he painted a dire picture of the alternative to convening an international conference to reach a political resolution to the two-year civil war.
"The people of Syria are suffering ... the prospect a long, continued war, which is very possible, means not only will many, many people die, many more homes will be destroyed, cities be destroyed," he said. "Not only will you have more atrocities, more violations of human rights, even some small evidence here and there of some ethnic cleansing."
"Not only will you have all that, but you may ultimately have complete destruction of the state of Syria so that the army and the institutions will fall apart and you will have a complete sectarian breakdown," he said, "and that becomes far more dangerous for all of the region because it will empower extremists as well as create ongoing sectarian strife" in the region.
Kerry reiterated his called for Iran and the Hezbollah fighters, which are bolstering Assad's forces, to leave Syria — a move he said would make it easier for a political resolution to be reached.