Daily Israel Report

Kerry to Syria: You’re Not Off the Hook Yet

"The threat of force remains," Kerry warns Syria in a news conference with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 9/16/2013, 1:14 AM

Netanyahu and Kerry
Netanyahu and Kerry
Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday, after talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, warned Syria that it was not off the hook following a U.S.-Russian deal to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile.

On a whirlwind visit to Jerusalem for talks with Netanyahu on Syria and on peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, Kerry made clear that the agreement with Moscow had not removed the option of a U.S.-led military strike.

"The threat of force remains, the threat is real," Kerry said at a news conference after a four-hour meeting with Netanyahu, reported AFP.

"Make no mistake, we have taken no options off the table," he warned after news of the deal appeared to stave off the immediate military threat which emerged following a chemical attack last month on a Damascus suburb.

The agreement, signed in Geneva on Saturday after three days of talks between Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, dominated the news conference with both men saying little on the peace talks.

Kerry arrived in Israel in the morning, and went straight into talks with Netanyahu, then headed straight back to the airport for a flight to Paris, which took off just after 3:00 p.m. GMT, an AFP correspondent said.

Although Kerry described the Geneva accord as "the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal effort" ever, he acknowledged it would "only be as effective as its implementation".

Netanyahu expressed his appreciation of Kerry’s efforts “to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.”

“The Syrian regime must be stripped of all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer,” he told Kerry.

“The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don't have weapons of mass destruction because as we've learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them,” said Netanyahu. “The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime's patron, Iran. Iran must understand the consequences of its continual defiance of the international community, by its pursuit towards nuclear weapons.”

“What the past few days have shown is something that I have been saying for quite some time, that if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat. What is true of Syria is true of Iran, and, by the way, vice versa.”

Referring in passing to the peace talks, Netanyahu said, “I appreciate the opportunity we've had to discuss at some length our quest for peace with the Palestinians and the ongoing talks. We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we have embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all."

Ahead of Kerry's flying visit to Jerusalem, which comes six days after he met PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in London, the State Department said he would discuss "final status negotiations" with Netanyahu.

Kerry, however, kept his remarks on the peace talks to a minimum, saying only, "We are convinced that the best way to try to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately. We will not discuss the substance of what we are working on."

Since becoming secretary of state in February, Kerry has dedicated much of his energy to restarting peace talks. After six trips to the region in four months, he met negotiators from both sides - Saeb Erekat on the PA side and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni - in Washington on July 29 and 30 to officially re-launch the talks.

Kerry asked both sides to keep the details of the negotiations secret in order to give the process a chance to work and, while Israeli officials have remain tight-lipped about the talks, PA officials have made several leaks to the press.

In the most recent leak, a PA official said that during the negotiations, Israel agreed to a wholesale deportation of thousands of Jews from Judea and Samaria and the transfer of their property to PA Arabs. However, the PA official who reported on that Israeli offer added that the PA side had rejected it as not going far enough. 

In an earlier leak to the press, the PA's chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told an Arabic radio station that the U.S. has guaranteed the PA all of its key preconditions in advance of negotiations.