United States Secretary of State John Kerry will visit the Middle East next week but will be skipping Israel, his spokesman said on Monday.
In his daily briefing, State Department spokesman John Kirby announced that Kerry would be in Cairo on August 2 to discuss bilateral ties with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. From there, Kirby added, Kerry will travel to Qatar, where he will meet with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the capital Doha for discussions of the Iran deal, among other issues.
Asked why Kerry would not be visiting Israel during the trip, the spokesman responded, “It’s just not part of the parameters for this trip. It’s not – it wasn’t a deliberate decision not to go. It’s literally – it’s an around-the-world trip.”
Kirby added that Kerry “has been in touch with Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu many, many times over the last several weeks in terms of discussing the deal and the parameters of it. So it’s not as if we aren’t in constant communication with Israeli counterparts about this.”
The last call Kerry and Netanyahu held was on July 16, Kirby said in response to a question from a reporter.
Relations between Washington and Jerusalem have been tense lately in the wake of the Iran deal, which Netanyahu has repeatedly warned against.
Kerry has been particularly vocal of his disapproval of Netanyahu’s criticism. Last week, Kerry warned that Israel might be blamed if Congress blocks the accord with Iran, and that as a result Israel might “wind up being more isolated.”
That statement came hours after Kerry warned Israel that a unilateral strike on Iran's covert nuclear program would be a "huge mistake."
Appearing on NBC, Kerry was asked if the Iran nuclear deal sealed last Tuesday would make it more likely that Israel will either physically strike Iran's nuclear facilities, or else launch a cyber attack against them.
"That'd be an enormous mistake, a huge mistake with grave consequences for Israel and for the region, and I don't think it's necessary," Kerry answered.
In response, an Israeli official told The New York Times on Saturday that Israel would continue to criticize the nuclear agreement with Iran and would not be pressured to stop voicing its objections.
“We reject the threats directed at Israel in recent days,” the official said , adding, “The U.S. Congress will make its decision based on American interests, which include consideration of U.S. allies.”
“The regrettable attempt to intimidate Israel will not prevent us from voicing our concerns about this deal, which poses direct threats to Israel’s security.”
The Zionist Union party, meanwhile, on Monday night blamed Netanyahu for Kerry choosing not to visit Israel.
"Kerry’s avoiding visiting Israel is proof that Netanyahu's policies threaten the security of the state, causing the Americans to seek other allies," the party charged.