US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday pushed back against caustic, persistent criticism from the right flank of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.
The secretary was berated by Israeli politicians for warning recently that the Jewish state faces the serious threat of a widespread boycott and delegitimization campaign if current talks with the Palestinians don’t yield results. Those talks began in July and are scheduled to end in April, with no concrete results in sight thus far.
Kerry, who spoke to CNN in an interview that is slated to be aired in its entirety on Thursday, also dropped something of a bombshell, saying that he has “no plans whatsoever” to run for the presidency in 2016 and intends to retire from politics following his term as America’s top diplomat. “I’m out of politics. I have no plans whatsoever. This is my last stop,” he said.
Kerry has placed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict front and center on the State Department’s agenda, making 11 trips to the region since taking the reins from his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.
Of his Israeli detractors, including Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and other senior officials, Kerry said in the interview that he had been “attacked” with real bullets before and wouldn’t be scared off by words. The secretary was referring to his military service during the Vietnam War.
“My comments need to be properly represented, not distorted,” he said. “I did not do anything except cite what other people are talking about as a problem.”
”But I also have always opposed boycotts. I have 100 percent voting record in support of Israel for 29 years in the United States Senate. Unfortunately, there are some people in Israel and in Palestine and in the Arab World and around the world that don’t support the peace process,” Kerry added.
“I’ve been, quote, ‘attacked’ before by people using real bullets, not words. And I am not going to be intimidated,” he told Tapper, according to a transcript released by CNN.
Some in Israel cynically had posited that Kerry was hoping to use success with the peace process as a springboard to launching another presidential bid, or at the very least, that he would be happy to come away with a Nobel peace prize.
The secretary put those suggestions to rest, for now. “I’m going to serve the country in the extraordinarily privileged position the president has given me, the great challenges that I have, and move on,” he said.
Though much of the interview focused on US policy in Syria, Kerry was also asked about the interim agreement signed between world powers and Iran in November.
The secretary was adamant that the agreement, which freezes much of Iran’s nuclear program in place while allowing for limited relief from crippling sanctions, made Israel safer.
“I can absolutely sit here and look you in the eye and I’ve looked Prime Minister Netanyahu in the eye and said, ‘I believe Israel and the region are safer today than they were before we made this agreement.’ Because the program is stopped and rolled back and we have greater insight and accountability into the program,” he said.