ISTANBUL — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has started his Middle East visit in Istanbul, Turkey. His talks there are focusing on efforts to rebuild relations between Israel and Turkey - and the conflict in Syria.
It is the second visit to Turkey in two months by the U.S. secretary of state. In a press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, Kerry urged Ankara to continue efforts to rebuild relations with Israel.
"Turkey and Israel are both vital allies to the United States and we are hopeful their agreement to restore normalization between those countries, will open the door to greater cooperation," Kerry said.
Relations between the former allies had been in a deep freeze following the killing in 2010 of nine Turks by Israeli commandos aboard a ship seeking to break Israel’s economic embargo of the Gaza Strip.
But following the intervention of U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Israel last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The apology was accepted, with both sides agreeing to restore full diplomatic relations. Israel also agreed to pay compensation to the families of those killed.
Kerry is pressing to expedite the process of normalization.
"To be on track in its full measure, it is imperative the compensation component of the agreement be fulfilled, that the ambassadors be returned, and that the full relationship be embraced," Kerry said.
Kerry said the restoring of Israeli-Turkish relations is important to his efforts to kick-start peace efforts between the Palestinians and Israel, the next stop on his trip.
The conflict in neighboring Syria was another key topic in Kerry’s Istanbul talks. He paid tribute to Turkey’s humanitarian efforts.
"Turkey has also been incredibly generous to the refugees of this crisis, and they have taken them in by the thousands, kept their borders open, done everything possible to try to respond to that increasing humanitarian crisis," Kerry said.
Turkey is giving shelter to more than a quarter of a million Syrian refugees. Secretary Kerry wants Turkey to keep its border open, a commitment the Turkish foreign minister made.