PM headed to Rome for meetings with pope, John Kerry
Netanyahu and US secretary of state will discuss progress in Iranian nuclear talks and peace negotiations with Palestinians
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet Pope Francis and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Italy next week.
Netanyahu will meet Francis in the Vatican Wednesday, ahead of the pontiff’s expected visit to Israel next year. In Rome, the prime minister will meet with Kerry to discuss the current nuclear negotiations between six world powers on Iran, and the peace process with the Palestinians, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The first round of renewed nuclear negotiations between the so-called P5+1 powers and the Islamic Republic concluded Wednesday with cautious optimism from both sides. In a joint statement, the so called P5+1 powers and Iran spoke of “substantive and forward looking” talks.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Iranian proposal addressing its nuclear program was useful and contains a “level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who headed the Iranian delegation to the talks, said the negotiations “will hopefully be the beginning of a new phase” in relations between Iran and the West. Tehran is reportedly offering a reduction in uranium enrichment, but Israel demands the regime be prevented from enrichment capability on its own soil.
The peace talks with the Palestinians, which resumed this summer after intensive shuttle diplomatic by Kerry, have reportedly failed to make any headway after nearly a dozen meetings of the two negotiating teams.
Pope Francis last week told Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that he would visit Israel, but did not specify a date. According to Channel 2, he is expected to arrive in March, though the Vatican did not confirm this.
Edelstein met Pope Francis last Wednesday in the Vatican and invited him to Israel and to a visit to the Knesset. Pope Francis replied emphatically, “I’ll come! I’ll come!”
Francis had indicated in July he would visit Israel in 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Jerusalem in 1964, which took place before the Vatican recognized the State of Israel. “The government of Israel granted me a unique opportunity to come to Jerusalem,” Francis said at the time.
The Argentinian-born pontiff made the comments on his papal aircraft flying back to the Vatican from Brazil after his first trip abroad since his election in March. He told the assembled reporters that Israel invited him to visit to mark the anniversary, and if he did make the trip, he would visit the Palestinian Authority as well.
The visit would mark Francis’s second to the Holy Land. He visited in 1973, arriving just as the Yom Kippur War broke out. As The Times of Israel revealed in April, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (as he was known then) spent six days confined to his Jerusalem hotel, studying the Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.
President Shimon Peres first invited Francis to Israel immediately after his election, calling on him to visit as a spiritual, not a political, leader. Peres was the first senior Israeli official to visit Frances at the Vatican on April 30.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.