RABAT, Morocco — The Obama administration will reevaluate its role in foundering Middle East peace talks following negative steps by both Israel and the Palestinians that have brought the negotiations to virtual collapse, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday.
A clearly distressed Kerry, who has spent the better part of his 14-month tenure as America's top diplomat trying to cajole the parties into talks, said it is "reality check time" for the peace process.
Speaking to reporters in Rabat before traveling to Casablanca for a meeting with the king of Morocco, Kerry said, "We are going to evaluate very carefully exactly where this is and where it might possibly be able to go."
Noting the other pressing issues he's dealing with — including Ukraine, Iran and Syria — Kerry said, "there are limits to the amount of time and effort that the U.S. can spend if the parties themselves are unable to take constructive steps."
He said it is "regrettable" that in the last few days both sides "have taken steps that are not helpful and that's evident to everybody."
Kerry has been the lead player in a months-long effort by the Obama administration to resuscitate Mideast peace talks, with heightened urgency as an end-of-April deadline approached for setting a framework for productive talks.
Even as the secretary made another visit to the region, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas moved, against Israel's wishes and the expectations of the U.S., to seek accessions to 15 international conventions through the United Nations.
Israel, arguing that the action violated terms the two sides had agreed upon for the Jewish state's release of Palestinian prisoners, retaliated Thursday by saying it would not set free a fourth batch of prisoners, as had been scheduled this week.
The U.S. has supported statehood for the Palestinians but has argued that they should accomplish this through the peace process rather than by unilateral actions.
Kerry planned to return to Washington on Friday after a lengthy overseas trip that had him shuttling between cities in the Middle East and Europe in an effort to keep the peace talks alive.
Kerry said the talks are not open-ended and "it's reality check time and we intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be."