CAIRO – Secretary of State John F. Kerry came to Cairo on Wednesday to explore a new Egyptian proposal for resuming peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Kerry arrived in the Egyptian capital fresh from two days of talks in Vienna about the war in Syria and supporting the new government in Libya. He drove directly from the airport to meet with President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, a former general who took power after an elected Islamist president was ousted in a coup.
A scheduled meeting for Kerry to update Sissi on the Syrian and Libyan peace efforts took on an added importance after the Egyptian leader made an overture to Israelis on Tuesday, offering to warm up their frosty relationship if they would resume negotiations to settle the conflict with the Palestinians.
Sissi said he hoped his remarks would be rebroadcast in Israel so citizens and leaders there could discuss its merits.
Initial accounts of Sissi’s proposal were vague. His offer was made not in the Egyptian capital but in the southern city of Assiut, which two decades ago was a hotbed of Islamist extremism. Sissi reportedly offered to mediate a reconciliation between Palestinian factions for the purposes of restarting negotiations with the Israelis.
A State Department official said Kerry is interested in learning more about what Sissi has in mind. Before departing Vienna, Kerry spoke Tuesday night with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said.
In his first year as secretary of state, Kerry spent months trying to arrange peace talks, but they collapsed. Since then, U.S. officials have expressed concern that the time for a two-state solution to the conflict is running out, in part because of the expansion of Israeli settlements in territory the Palestinians desire for their own state.
Now in their final months in office, Obama administration officials have said they are not actively trying to get the talks going again before a new president comes into office.
The Sissi proposal is not the only idea for a settlement to arise from somewhere other than Washington. The French also are seeking to renew negotiations, calling for a conference in Paris at a still-undetermined date.