Updated at: 12/10/2013 1:35 AM
By DEB RIECHMANN
(AP) WASHINGTON - John Kerry leaves Wednesday on his ninth trip to the Mideast as Secretary of State to resume talks with Israel and the Palestinians aimed at crafting a final status agreement to end the decades-long conflict.
"It’s a commute, folks," Kerry joked Monday night about his frequent travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah, the first two stops on an eight-day trip that continues on to Vietnam and the Philippines.
Kerry spoke at the 100th anniversary dinner of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a leading international Jewish humanitarian organization that works in more than 70 countries and Israel.
In his speech, Kerry tried to allay fears that Israel is threatened by a first-step agreement that six world powers, including the U.S., recently negotiated with Iran to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has complained that the deal gave Iran too much relief while leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact. Netanyahu, who believes Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, says Iran’s military nuclear program must be dismantled.
"We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Not now. Not ever," Kerry said, reaffirming U.S. commitment to the security of Israel.
On the peace talks, Kerry said he and Netanyahu are "hand-in-hand" and "mind-in-mind" in how to proceed. He said that despite skepticism, he continues to believe that a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians remains a possibility.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Kerry’s meetings in Ho Chi Minh City will focus on trade and education. In the Mekong Delta, Kerry is to underscore how Americans and the Vietnamese can work together on climate change and renewable energy. In Hanoi, the secretary will meet with senior Vietnamese leaders.
In the Philippines, Kerry will meet with top government leaders in Manila and visit the city of Tacloban, which was hard hit by Typhoon Haiyan.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)