Kerry heading to Middle East to talk regional issues

WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East, where he will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“In Jerusalem and Bethlehem, he will meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials to discuss the ongoing final status negotiations as well as other regional issues of mutual concern,” said a State Department statement released Thursday describing Kerry’s travel to Europe and the Middle East from Nov. 3 to 11.

Kerry has said renewed talks between Israelis and the Palestinians should now enter an intensive phase.

The statement also said Kerry would discuss Iran-related issues with the Israelis. In recent days he has had a tense back-and-forth with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over renewed negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Israel wants Iran to divest itself of any capacity for uranium enrichment, while the United States has not rejected out of hand the notion that Iran may enrich uranium to a low percentage.

Kerry’s travels also will include a meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which has expressed reservations about the Obama administration’s Syria and Iran policies.