Kerry talks to Netanyahu, Abbas

WASHINGTON (JTA) – John Kerry, freshly installed as secretary of state, spoke with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Also over the weekend, two top State Department officials dealing with Iran’s alleged nuclear threat said they would be stopping in Israel during overseas visits and Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, was visiting Washington.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland spoke about Kerry’s conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The secretary underscored his personal commitment and that of President Obama to support Israel’s security and to pursue a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," Nuland said, according to a Reuters report.

Kerry, who plans to visit the region next month, also spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The State Department in a statement laid out the agenda for the two State Department officials — Rose Gottemoeller, the acting undersecretary for arms control, and Thomas Countryman, the assistant secretary for nonproliferation.

Countryman will "meet with Israeli counterparts to discuss nonproliferation and international security issues of mutual concern," and Gottemoeller will "consult with senior civilian and military officials on pressing regional security issues and expanding our enduring strategic partnership" and deliver remarks at a conference on nuclear nonproliferation, the statement said.

The Obama administration has indicated that it is seeking to engage with Iran in direct talks aimed at ending Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. Iran says its nuclear activity is strictly peaceful.

The Israel Defense Forces in announcing the five-day visit by Gantz said it was "official … as the guest of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey."

In its statement, the IDF said the two generals would "discuss current security challenges, the regional security status in the Middle East and military cooperation."

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