Kerry and President Peres
Kerry and President PeresIsrael news photo: Office of the President

U.S. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Sunday and said, “Iran has not left anybody very much choice but to move down the road that we are going.” He refrerred to tougher sanctions on Iran but did not mention the military option.

“No one in the United States underestimates or mistakes the challenge that Iran is posing to the region,” Sen. Kerry added. “We have put some tough sanctions into place… and in the Senate; we just went further last week."

The sanctions that the Democratic-controlled Congress wants has placed it at odds with U.S. President Barack Obama, who faces increasing criticism for failing to push harsher measures through the United Nations Security Council.

The senator’s visit is viewed as a warm-up for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to the White House next month, one week after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will travel to Washington. The Arab world has held out for Israel to accept the Saudi 2002 Initiative, demanding a surrender of all of the land restored to the Jewish State in the 1967 Six-Day War as well as allowing the immigration to Israel of approximately five million Arabs claiming to be descendants of former residents of Israel.

“President Obama, I know, is very much looking forward to the meeting with the Prime Minister,” Sen. Kerry stated. “Let me begin by congratulating you.” Referring to Israel’s relaxing the partial land embargo on Hamas-controlled Gaza, he added, “I think everyone in Congress, and in the administration, and in our country was pleased and excited by the steps that Israel has taken now. We are very sympathetic to your right to defend yourself… I personally visited Sderot, I know the problem of the rockets coming in, and how many have come in, this needs to change, and that’s what we are all working on.”

He used the opportunity to promote the American-mediated “proximity talks” under the leadership of U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell. “[Former] Senator Mitchell will be back here continuing to work on it… I think time is the enemy for all of us here. We need to get this moving because the patience of people who have been waiting a long time on both sides, on all sides, has been tried."

Sen. Kerry previously has visited Syria and Gaza in an effort to win backing for a regional peace summit, even though the United States considers Syria a country that supports terrorism.

President Peres told Kerry, “I do not believe that we can move without the leadership of the United States.… We are very grateful to the United States for its strong support of Israel. It is important to raise the level of discussion between Israel and the Palestinians from proximity talks to direct talks. It is also necessary to have a secret channel, because everything made public is no longer negotiations, but rather public relations.”