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Kerry return marked by hot debate over Israel-US ties
by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) Dec 03, 2013


Biden heads to China amid air zone tensions
Beijing (AFP) Dec 03, 2013 - US Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Beijing on Wednesday amid rising friction over a Chinese air zone, needing to tread between bolstering ties with the rising power and underscoring alliances with Tokyo and Seoul.

His trip -- which began in Japan and ends in South Korea -- follows weeks of furore after Beijing declared an "air defence identification zone" (ADIZ) covering East China Sea islands also claimed by Japan.

The decades-old dispute between the historic rivals flared after Tokyo bought some of the islands from their private owners in September 2012.

Since then, Beijing has sent ships and aircraft to nearby waters while Japan scrambled fighter jets on hundreds of occasions, raising concerns of an unintended clash.

"This underscores the need for crisis management mechanisms and effective channels of communication between China and Japan to reduce risk of escalation," Biden said in a joint press conference on Tuesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"I will be raising these concerns in great specificity directly when I meet with the Chinese leadership," he said. "We will remain steadfast in our alliance's commitment."

A US official said it was especially important "that we continue to amplify our messages that we are and always will be there for our allies", adding that "there is a way for two major powers, in the US and China, to build a different kind of relationship for the 21st century".

Beijing provoked widespread anger late last month by declaring an ADIZ in which all aircraft had to obey Chinese orders or face unspecified "defensive emergency measures".

Washington, Tokyo and Seoul all sent military or paramilitary planes into the zone in defiance of Beijing's rules, while the US re-iterated its security pact with Japan.

China for its part has accused the US and Japan -- which both have ADIZs -- of double standards, saying the real provocateur is Tokyo.

A senior administration official in Washington said Biden would discuss the wider concerns raised by the China's defence zone declaration.

"It also allows the vice president ... to make the broader point that there's an emerging pattern of behaviour by China that is unsettling to China's own neighbours and raising questions about how China operates in international space and how China deals with areas of disagreement with its neighbours," the official said.

Biden -- who is set to meet with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and Vice President Li Yuanchao -- will also have "a very wide-ranging dialogue" on other issues, the official said.

Officials stressed that the trip was planned before recent tensions and was aimed at emphasising that the "United States is a resident Pacific power, we're here to stay and we're actively engaged on the full spectrum of issues in the region".

Biden will fly on Thursday to South Korea to meet President Park Geun-Hye and mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations, which the White House called a "linchpin of regional security".

US Secretary of State John Kerry's return to Israel on Wednesday comes at a time of heated debate in the Jewish state over its alliance with Washington.

The visit will be his first since world powers including the US on November 24 signed an interim nuclear accord with Iran that has angered Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted the accord, under which Iran agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear programme in return for limited sanctions relief, as a "historic mistake".

His condemnation has not been toned down by repeated US assurances, including from President Barack Obama, that Iran would never be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb.

Netanyahu himself has now come under criticism at home for challenging Israel's closest ally.

A former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, accused his outspoken rightwing successor of having "declared war against Barack Obama's administration".

And Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a member of the centre-right Yesh Atid party in the governing coalition, has also questioned Netanyahu's tactics.

"We can have disputes within the family as long as they stay in the family" and are not made public, the minister said.

"It's better to tone down (rhetoric) against the Americans since a clash serves no good purpose."

But Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin told army radio Tuesday that Israel should focus on its own security rather than pander to its long-time ally.

"The partnership with the United States is very important but when there are disagreements, the prime minister's job is to prioritise Israel's security, even if it's not that great for our relations with the Americans," he said.

Haaretz newspaper's diplomatic correspondent said Tuesday the Israeli government did not even believe Obama genuinely trusted Iran.

"Netanyahu and his people are not persuaded that Obama is truly determined to stop Iran's nuclear plan, but think he only wants to toss the hot potato to the next president," Barak Ravid wrote.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last month suggested that Israel should seek partners other than Washington.

On Tuesday, Maariv daily quoted a Netanyahu aide as saying: "Israel cannot rely solely on the Americans ... Israel is taking steps to increase its cooperation with China and Russia."

Netanyahu embarked on a visit to Moscow days ahead of the Iran deal in an apparent snub to the US, but without convincing Russia not to sign the accord.

Speaking at a Tel Aviv University discussion panel, Olmert also slammed the Russia trip, Haaretz newspaper reported.

"Will (Russian President Vladimir) Putin give us $3 billion in military aid a year?" he asked, referring to annual US aid.

Differences on peace talks also

Aside from Iran, the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process has also thrown up differences between Netanyahu and the Obama administration.

Netanyahu last month forced Housing Minister Uri Ariel to back down over newly-announced settlement building, cancelling plans for 20,000 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank -- but only after US criticism.

Commentators said it was an effort to assuage the Americans as an Iran deal loomed closer.

But the government has nevertheless announced several thousand new settler homes slated for construction in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem since the US-brokered peace talks began late July.

Palestinian negotiators have already resigned over settlement construction, although president Mahmud Abbas has yet to accept their resignations.

Kerry warned in a November television interview that failure to make peace with the Palestinians could trigger a new, bloody uprising.

"The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos," Kerry said in a joint interview in November with Israel's Channel 2 and the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp.

"I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?" the top US diplomat asked, using the Arabic word for uprising.

The past few months have seen a series of violent incidents in the West Bank, including the killings of both Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers.

But officials insist these are "isolated" incidents and do not signal the beginning of a new, coordinated uprising.

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