An overhaul in U.S. Mideast Policy?

U.S. Senator John Kerry, who recently visited the region — including post-war Gaza — said to Voice of American recently that inauguration of a new U.S. administrations presents “an extraordinary chance to signal a new regional approach to the Middle East”.

There have been several signals recently, during the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton a few days after Kerry had come through, that the U.S. is, indeed, taking a wider approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a joint press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his Ramallah headquarters, Clinton told journalists that “The Obama Administration will be vigorously engaged in efforts to forge a lasting peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and all of the Arab neighbors”.

In the same press conference, Abbas confirmed in response to a journalist’s question that Clinton had brought a letter (or a message) from U.S. President Obama.  Abbas said the letter contained Obama’s assurances that he is fully committed to the peace process, that the United States supports the Palestinian (National) Authority, and the Road Map — and the Arab Peace initiative (proposing full recognition and normalization of relations with Israel, if Israel fully withdraws from Palestinian lands it occupied in the June 1967 – including East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza).

VOA reported in an analysis piece from Washington today that Kerry said “there has been a tectonic shift in the geopolitics of the Middle East.Kerry says the rise of Iran following the war in Iraq has created an unprecedented willingness among moderate Arab nations to work with Israel.  ‘”To start with we need to fundamentally re-conceptualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a regional problem that demands a regional solution. The challenges that we face there – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Middle East peace process – form an interconnected web that requires an integrated approach’, he said.

As the VOA noted in the report, two senior U.S. envoys have visited Syria, “the highest level talks between Washington and Damascus since 2005”; President Obama has announced the timetable for withdrawal of American combat forces in Iraq: and Obama has decided to open the door to the possibility of direct engagement with Tehran.

The VOA report can be read in full here.

In a separate news story, VOA reported that “European Union officials will meet Sunday [15 March] with envoys from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to discuss the situation in the Middle East. The bloc’s Czech presidency said Wednesday that the meeting in Brussels will focus on Egypt’s role in mediating Middle East negotiations. A representative from Jordan will also attend the meeting”. This report can be read in full here.