WASHINGTON — As he prepares to end his long career in public office, US Secretary of State John Kerry issued an exit memo Thursday that stresses two of his major initiatives as the nation’s top diplomat: the pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the Iran nuclear deal.
With a little more than two weeks left before he departs Foggy Bottom, Kerry released the 21-page summation of his work over the last four years and what priorities his successor should keep in mind.
While Kerry did not mention President-elect Donald Trump or his choice for secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, in the document, he spent considerable space on matters he worked on that the incoming president has promised to reverse.
Coming shortly after the US refused to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements and a major address he delivered castigating the settlement enterprise as a central obstacle to peace, the one-time Democratic nominee sought to make clear the outgoing administration’s regret over the failure to reach a comprehensive accord between the two sides.
That failure, he emphasized, was due to the unwillingness of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to cross the Rubicon of peacemaking.
“During my time in office, we worked very hard to restart negotiations between the two sides to see if progress was indeed possible,” he said. “Unfortunately, the parties were not willing to make the difficult choices necessary to move forward with the negotiations.”
The memo makes no mention of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 or indeed of settlements. It asserts, however, that “we have also steadfastly, year after year, defended Israel from biased resolutions at the United Nations and other multilateral fora.”
Referring to his erstwhile nine-month negotiating time frame for forging a final-status agreement, Kerry said the administration had since been working to ensure the two-state framework wouldn’t be relinquished amidst the current stalemate.
“We have been calling on the parties to demonstrate with policies and actions a genuine commitment to the two-state solution and to create the conditions for the resumption of successful negotiations,” he said.
The United States, he said, remained “committed to realizing the vision of a two-state solution: a secure, democratic Jewish state of Israel living side-by-side with an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state.”
After the United States forwent the veto that would have stymied the Security Council resolution that branded Israeli settlements as illegal, Trump signaled his administration’s Israel policy would make a strong break with President Obama’s.
“As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th,” he tweeted, referring to his inauguration date. In a subsequent tweet, he told Israel to “stay strong.”
In a separate section of his summation, Kerry promoted the administration’s handling of US-Israeli bilateral ties, saying that “the security relationship… is stronger than it has ever been.”
He cited US financial support for Israel’s missile interception system Iron Dome and the $38 billion, 10-year defense aid Memorandum of Understanding agreement forged last year.
Kerry also devoted a section to the Iran accord, the landmark pact he negotiated in July 2015 with world powers.
Before the deal, Tehran was 90 days away from being able to build a nuclear weapon, but the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — as the agreement is formally known — set them back one year, reduced their stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent and instituted transparency measures that alert the US if the Iranians fail to comply, he said.
While Kerry argued forcefully for the deal’s efficacy, he also urged a future US policy that robustly confronts other problematic Iranian behavior. “We must maintain our pressure and continue to push back on Iran’s missile program, its support for terrorism, its disregard for human rights, and its destabilizing interference in the affairs of its neighbors as long as these threats persist,” he said.