WASHINGTON -- New Secretary of State John Kerry reached out to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in phone calls this weekend, assuring them the Obama administration will continue to pursue a Mideast peace agreement while recognizing the individual concerns on both sides.
Kerry told Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his and President Barack Obama's commitment to support Israel's security and to pursue a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu updated Kerry on his work to form a new government. They also discussed Iran and Syria, and pledged to work together closely.
Kerry commended the Israeli decision to release frozen tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority as an important step. Israel's monthly tax transfers to the Palestinians -- the result of taxes and customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians -- are a key element in the Palestinian government budget.
In his conversation Sunday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry said Obama "is very interested in the peace process and aware of the economic hardships of the Palestinian people," Abbas spokesman Nabel Abu Rdeneh said. Rdeneh also noted that Kerry said he would visit the region for further talks with Abbas "to preserve the political path." No time was set for the visit.
The State Department said Kerry spoke of his personal commitment to peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. Kerry pledged to continue efforts with the Congress to release budget support funds for the Palestinian Authority and noted the positive step the Israelis had taken by releasing the tax revenues.
The department also said Kerry spoke with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Saturday about the formation of the country's new government, and said the two "exchanged views" on the peace process and regional matters.
On a busy first weekend as America's top diplomat, Kerry also: