Kerry Urges EU End Israel Sanctions Amid Syria Push

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is appealing to his European Union counterparts to end their restrictions on funds for Israeli organizations in occupied territories beyond its 1967 borders, according to a State Department official.

Kerry is meeting today in Lithuania with EU foreign ministers, who remain divided over a strike against Syria. He’s also arguing that because Israelis and Palestinians are in direct talks for the first time in three years, countries with an interest in peace should support rather than punish them, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Kerry arrived in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius the day after President Barack Obama failed to win a unified support for world leaders at a Group of 20 summit in Russia. The proposed American strike on Syria is intended to punish the regime for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people.

The EU fissures over Syria persist, a Lithuanian diplomat present in the meetings told reporters. Germany still opposes a U.S.-led strike, while France and Denmark are among its most vocal supporters.

Some fear a strike could bolster Assad by consolidating people around him in the face of external aggression, said the diplomat, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. Others say that as time passes, the punitive value of a strike weakens.

There is general agreement among the EU ministers that the United Nations must hold chemical weapons users responsible, and that those who block a decision by the Security Council, as Russia and China have done, also bear responsibility, the diplomat said.

Central Question

The central question, the diplomat said, is who carried out the attack. The main evidence against Assad that Kerry and other U.S. officials has offered is that only the regime, not the rebels, actually have chemical weapons stockpiles.

After meetings with the EU foreign ministers and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Kerry will travel to France for talks with French leaders and foreign ministers from the Arab League. He then goes to the U.K. to consult with British and Saudi officials, and to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the U.S. official said.

Against the backdrop of administration appeals for international support, the U.S. Congress is debating whether to authorize a mission that some lawmakers want to limit and others seek to expand.

In Lithuania and France, Kerry will brief colleagues on Syria, how the administration sees the situation there developing, and what it might do in coming days, according to a second administration official who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Broader Consensus

Kerry planned to stress to EU ministers that, while the U.S. will work with the United Nations, it is also prepared to work outside UN auspices, the official said.

Kerry is outlining work the U.S. is doing with the Syrian opposition to better extract concessions from the regime, said the official, who wouldn’t provide details. Starting a political process in which a peace agreement can be negotiated will require actions that force Assad to see the benefit of turning to talks instead of tanks, the official said, referring indirectly to a military strike.

The U.S. already has started discussions with some countries on how they can help, the official said. In talks with foreign ministers in Lithuania and Paris, Kerry will focus on political responses and on Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran.

Political Solution

He will cover what the international community can say to Iran and Russia, how they are likely to react in the event of military action, and how the U.S. would like to work with them toward a political solution, according to the official.

A failure to act against the regime would make the U.S. and its allies seem unreliable, the official said. It also would undermine the moderate opposition, while strengthening extremists, who have argued that the U.S. isn’t reliable and cares only about Israel’s security, the official said.

Upheaval in the region hasn’t disrupted Israeli-Palestinian talks and may have helped them, the first official said. Israelis and Palestinians both have made clear to U.S. negotiators that they don’t want to be engulfed in the turmoil, the first official said, describing the violence as a motivation for both sides to work toward a solution.

The official also said the Palestinian group Hamas, which governs Gaza, has been weakened since losing the protection of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has been targeted by that country’s military following the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi. Israel and the U.S. consider Hamas to be a terrorist group.

Hamas’s Decline

Hamas’s decline has strengthened its rival Abbas, making it easier for the Palestinian Authority president to engage in negotiations and stick with them, the official said.

Kerry’s meeting in Paris with the Arab League was originally meant to focus on Mideast peace. While Syria will be added to the agenda, Kerry and others are intent on having Arab nations engaged in the peace talks from the beginning, the first official said. These consultations are part of regular meetings Kerry hopes to hold with his Arab counterparts.

The official said that experience has taught the U.S. that if key Arab officials aren’t involved from the beginning, they won’t be involved at the end, and that they’re crucial to ensuring Palestinian support and endorsement if an agreement is reached.

Source : bloomberg

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