Things are busy in U.S. diplomacy right now.
Iran nuclear talks are happening in Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East trying to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and Syria is taking steps toward chemical disarmament.
As Israeli Channel 2 journalist Udi Segal pointed out in an interview today with Kerry, the U.S. has set some aggressive timelines for all these major issues to be resolved.
From a transcript of the interview, conducted jointly in Jerusalem with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation’s Maher Shalabi:
UDI SEGAL: So in the next spring, according to your schedule, Syria will be stripped of its chemical weapons, Iran will have an agreement to stop its nuclear program and we will have a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Could it be that you guys maybe are slightly too optimistic?
SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Well, I think you need optimism in a place that has a lot of pessimism. I think it’s good to have optimism. The schedule may slip a little here and there, but if you don’t have targets, if you don’t set ambitious targets, you don’t get anything done.
We are on target right now with the chemical weapons in Syria. A month ago, nobody would have believed you even had Assad admitting he had weapons. Now, not only has he admitted [to them], but we’re moving them out and destroying their capacity. So if it takes a few months longer, I can live with that.
With respect to the peace process, we have not set a specific — we’ve set nine months for the time of negotiation. We are working on trying to bring people to a place where there’s an understandable framework for those negotiations. So everybody knows what we’re aiming for. And there’s a general agreement, maybe not an agreement with every piece of it, but a general agreement of the direction we’re moving.
And obviously with Iran, we have a target, but the clock is ticking. Iran knows that if they don’t meet the standards of the international community the sanctions could be increased and, even worse, if the clock ticked down where you have a very dangerous situation, there may be no option but the military option. We hope to avoid that, but we are clearly moving to try to deal with these issues.
That’s all true: By this coming spring, America hopes all these problems will be solved.
In Israel, if all goes to the U.S.’s ambitious plan, a Middle East peace deal will be struck by March.
In July, Kerry set a nine-month timeline for negotiations to create a Palestinian state and end the decades-long political and at times military conflict. Three months in, Palestinian negotiators reportedly offered resignations over newly announced plans for Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. Over the latter part of this week, Kerry has been in Israel and Jordan meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
On Iran, the U.S. hopes for a deal in May, again, if all goes to plan.
The P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – -the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and China — plus Germany) are meeting today in Geneva with Iran over its nuclear program. The U.S. hopes to secure a six-month agreement for Iran to limit the program while more substantive talks are held, according to a senior Obama administration official, with hopes for a broader deal at the end of those six months.
In Syria, the U.S. hopes all chemical weapons will be destroyed by June 30.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in September set a mid-2014 deadline for “the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons,” and Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that he’s confident Syria’s weapons can be destroyed by June 30, 2014, under the framework agreed upon by the U.S. and Russia.
As Kerry told Segal, it’s good to have optimism.