U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and long-time friend Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said on Wednesday that both their countries were committed to trying to achieve a lasting settlement on the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, but that the "window was closing" on the peace process.
President Barack Obama plans to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this spring, raising the prospects of a new U.S. push to restart long-stalled Israel-Palestinian peace efforts.
"It would be a huge mistake, almost an arrogant step, to suddenly be announcing this and that without listening first, so that's what I intend to do, that's what the president intends to do, but we are committed, as I've said to Minister Judeh and to others, to explore every possibility," Kerry said.
"The window is closing on this possibility, the region knows it, all the leaders that I've talked to in the region that brought this topic up is a prime topic and so it deserves our utmost consideration, and it will get it."
The choice of Israel, a close U.S. ally, for Obama's first foreign travel since his Jan. 21 inauguration will give the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a chance to try to repair their notoriously fractious relationship.
"There is agreement between us and the U.S. that the window is closing and we have to move fast, and we have to work together, and that this remains a priority of paramount importance to all of us. Peace in the Middle East, I've said before in this room, is peace of mind for the rest of the world. This is just not a local or regional conflict. This is a global conflict, with global ramifications, and it remains a core central issue," said Judeh.
Obama's trip signaled that he intended to make the volatile Middle East — where Iran remains locked in a nuclear standoff with the West and Syria is caught up in a bloody civil war — a top priority in his second term.
Judeh also highlighted the importance of finding a political solution to the violence in Syria.
"We certainly discussed Syria from the political perspective, the lingering crisis, the continuing violence and the need to exert our joint and collective efforts to try and arrive at a political solution that restores Syria to what it deserves, which is much better than today, that respects and preserves the territorial integrity and restores the dignity to the great Syrian people," he said.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured over the border to Jordan fleeing the Syrian conflict, which has killed over 60,000.
"The preference of the administration is to make sure we have a political solution if at all possible, that is the preferable outcome here, that there be a negotiated solution, but that it would result in President Assad's departure, the president believes, I believe that is going to happen," Kerry said.
In the wide-ranging news conference, Kerry said a North Korean nuclear test on Tuesday that drew international condemnation needed to be looked at in a broader nonproliferation context.
"The international community now must come together with a swift, clear, credible response as pledged in the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2087. My message about this is really simple, this is not only about [North Korea] and its continued flaunting of its obligations under three separate U.N. Security Council resolutions. This is about proliferation and this is also about Iran ... because they are linked, you connect the dots. It is important for the world to have credibility in respect to our nonproliferation efforts, and just as it is impermissible for North Korea to pursue this kind of reckless effort, so we have said it is impermissible with respect to Iran," he said.
Iran indicated that some progress was made in talks with the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Wednesday, but that the two sides again failed to finalize an elusive framework deal over Iran's disputed atomic activity.
The International Atomic Energy Agency had hoped to bridge persistent differences with Iran preventing the U.N. agency from restarting a long-stalled investigation into suspected nuclear weapons research by Iran. Iran says the allegations are forged and baseless.