Kerry Sees ‘Possibilities’ on Mideast Peace, Never Mentioned in Obama’s SOTU

By Patrick Goodenough | February 14, 2013 | 4:40 AM EST

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh, at the State Department in Washington on February 13, 2013. (Photo: State Department)

( – Jordan’s foreign minister on Wednesday played down the fact President Obama did not mention the Israeli-Palestinian issue in his State of the Union address, saying he accepts Secretary of State John Kerry’s word when he says the administration wants to pursue Mideast peace.

Declining to “fall into the trap of passing judgment on the U.S. president’s speech,” Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters in Washington, “Last I heard, Secretary Kerry represents President Obama and the administration. So when he says that he’s extremely interested in pursuing Middle East peace, I believe that this is the administration’s policy.”

Judeh, speaking alongside Kerry at the State Department, was responding to a question from a reporter who works for an Arabic broadcaster who said that “many people in the Arab world were disappointed” that the speech was silent on the issue.

(In fact, Obama did not mention the peace process in his State of the Union speeches in 2010, 2011 or 2012 either. In his February 2009 speech to Congress – not technically a SOTU since it came just a month after his inauguration – he said, “To seek progress towards a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort.”)

Kerry said he was optimistic about chances for reviving the moribund peace process, and suggested that the contacts he has made in the region over almost three decades would be helpful.

“I think that Minister Judeh would agree that I start this journey with some good relationships, and I believe that there are possibilities,” he said.

Kerry said the reason he made his first calls after taking office to Israeli and Palestinian leaders “was to emphasize that this is of a concern.”

But he also said the plan was first to “listen.”

“The president is not prepared, at this point in time, to do more than to listen to the parties, which is why he has announced he’s going to go to Israel [next month],” Kerry said.

“It affords him an opportunity to listen. And I think we start out by listening and get a sense of what the current state of possibilities are and then begin to make some choices.

“It would be a huge mistake, almost an arrogant step, to suddenly be announcing this and that without listening first, so that’s what I intend to do, that’s what the president intends to do.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney stressed last week that Obama’s planned visit to Israel, the Palestinian Authority areas and Jordan “ is not focused on specific Middle East peace process proposals.”

Kerry said the administration was committed to exploring every avenue.

“The window is closing on this possibility. The region knows it. All the leaders I’ve talked to in the region have brought this topic up as a prime topic. And so it deserves our utmost consideration, and it will get that.”

Judeh also characterized the issue as a crucial one.

“Peace in the Middle East, I’ve said before in this room, is peace of mind for the rest of the world. This is not just a local and/or regional conflict. This is a global conflict with global ramifications and it remains a core central issue, as His Majesty the King [Abdullah II] says.”

Like Kerry, Judeh expressed optimism.

“Secretary Kerry’s firsthand knowledge, experience, and insights will provide the much-needed drive to reinvigorate Palestinian-Israeli negotiations leading to the realization of the two-state solution where an independent, sovereign, viable, and territorially-contiguous Palestinian state emerges living side by side with a secure Israel in a region that will hopefully enjoy peace, security, stability, and prosperity,” he said.

A negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has eluded successive American presidents and secretaries of state for decades.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow