Kerry pursues Syria, Mideast plans in Rome talks

Published: Updated:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday doggedly pursued his hopes of both ending the war in Syria and bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to negotiations on the third-day of a whirlwind tour.

Fresh from a marathon day of diplomacy in Moscow at which he agreed with Russian leaders to organize a conference seeking to end the bloodshed in Syria, the new top U.S. diplomat met for talks with Israeli peace negotiators.

In a surprise move, Kerry announced he would make his fourth trip back to Israel in less than three months towards the end of May, as he seeks to breathe fresh life into the talks stalled since late 2010.

All sides were approaching the issues “with a seriousness of purpose that has not been present in a while and we all believe that we are working with a short time span,” Kerry said as he met Livni in the U.S. ambassador's residence in Rome.

He added they were working through “a threshold of questions” and he would return to Israel around “the 21 or 22 of this month” to meet both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Livni, who was accompanied by veteran Israeli negotiator Isaac Molho, praised Kerry's efforts saying “after some years of stalemate ... your enthusiasm and efforts could change the realities”.

“I believe that what you are doing here could create hope in the region, because people somehow lost hope.”

Kerry will also meet with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Rome on Thursday for talks on both Syria, and Jordan's role in the peace process.

During meetings in Moscow lasting into the early hours of Wednesday, Kerry agreed with Russian leaders to convene a new international conference to try to find a way to end the 26-month Syrian conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry said they hoped the conference could be held by the end of May to build on the Geneva accord agreed by world powers last June for a peaceful solution in Syria.

The Geneva agreement, which bogged down almost as soon as it was signed, set out a path toward a transitional government without ever spelling out the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The six-point accord -- negotiated by the last U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan -- “should be the road map... by which the people of Syria can find their way to the new Syria, and in which the bloodshed, the killing, the massacres can end,” Kerry told a press conference after his Moscow talks.

He and Lavrov have now agreed to act almost as go-betweens between the opposition and the Assad regime aiming to bring the two sides to the table to map out a path to a transitional government.

Washington has soundly backed the Syrian opposition and is expected to make efforts to bring the rebels to the negotiations, despite their demand that Assad must go before any transitional government can be set up.

Meanwhile Moscow, Assad's most powerful ally, is likely to try to convince the regime that it must be serious in efforts to end the conflict.

Lavrov signaled Tuesday after his talks with Kerry that Russia was growing increasingly concerned about the bloodshed.

And in a side swipe at Assad, he stressed that “we are not interested in the fate of certain persons, we are interested in the fate of the Syrian people.”

But he also reiterated Russian concerns that “the opposition hasn't said a single word yet that would confirm its commitment to the Geneva communique”, again saying the rebel coalition was “not representative of all groups.”

It was not immediately clear where the proposed conference would be held, but Geneva is seen as one possible venue.

Since the war erupted to oust Assad, more than 1.5 million Syrians have fled the country into neighboring nations, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, vastly straining the resources of those countries.

Jordan is housing some 500,000 refugees -- many of them in the Zaatari refugee camp which is now the country's fourth largest city -- who have escaped the violence in Syria, in which some 70,000 people have been killed.