Kerry to Erdogan: Turkey-Israel reconciliation first, then Gaza visit
US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Turkey's Prime Minister on Sunday to delay a visit to Gaza in talks aimed at putting Israeli-Turkish relations back on track as part of efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.
"We have expressed to the prime minister (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) that it would be better to delay," Kerry told reporters in Istanbul, urging him to wait for the "right conditions".
Erdogan announced last week that he was planning to visit the impoverished Palestinian territory at the end of next month after a key trip to Washington on May 16.
Erdogan said his visit would be aimed at pushing for the lifting of Israel's embargo on the Gaza Strip but Washington fears such a trip could hurt a fresh US-brokered rapprochement between the former allies after a three-year rift.
Kerry also met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to continue talks "about how to get both sides (the Palestinians and the Israelis) back to the table," a State Department official said.
Kerry is working on a plan to try to boost the Palestinian economy as part of efforts to restore trust between the two sides.
Peace negotiations have been suspended since the latest ground to a halt shortly after their resumption in September 2010, largely over Israel's settlement construction on occupied land.
Kerry had warned Wednesday that time was slipping away to reach a peace deal, stressing for the first time that there may only be a year or two left.
The top US diplomat also said he was "confident" Abbas would find a successor to replace his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who resigned earlier this month.
Kerry said Fayyad, whose authority was never recognised by Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, was a personal friend and a "good man who has worked incredibly hard" for the development of the Palestinians.
"That said, this initiative, this dream, this effort we are working towards is bigger than one man it does not just depend on one person within a structure," he said.
"President Abbas made very clear that he understands the international concerns about accountability, about transparency," he added.
Kerry's talks with Erdogan focused mainly on restoring predominantly Muslim Turkey's once-close ties with Israel.
Israeli and Turkish officials meet on Monday for talks on compensation over a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship, which if successful could put the two countries' rocky relations back on sound footing.
A State Department official said the United States was "continuing to encourage" attempts at a rapprochement and that efforts needed to be made "one step at a time," starting with the compensation issue.
A strong ally for both Turkey and Israel, Washington has been trying to repair the ties which collapsed after the botched Israeli raid killed nine Turkish activists on the Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010.
After long refusing Ankara's demand for a formal apology, Israel last month finally made the gesture at the urging of US President Barack Obama.
But for the full restoration of ties and reappointment of its ambassador to Israel, Ankara insists Israel pay compensation for the raid victims and lift its punishing restrictions on Gaza.
Abbas's West Bank-based nationalist Fatah movement, a long-time rival to Hamas, has said Erdogan's plans to visit Gaza would foster intra-Palestinian divisions.
Kerry was in Istanbul mainly to attend talks among the 11-member core group of the pro-opposition "Friends of Syria", including the United States, European nations and Arab countries.
After more than six hours of talks that ended early Sunday, Kerry said US assistance to the opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad would double to $250 million (190 million euros).
He said the United States would expand deliveries of military equipment to rebel fighters to include new types of "non-lethal supplies", but ignored opposition demands for weapons and drone strikes on Assad regime positions.