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Kerry Meets Vatican Officials on Middle East Ahead of Pope's Visit

The United States and the Vatican are consulting on ways to bring peace to Syria and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pope Francis is set to visit the Middle East in May. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Tuesday with the new Secretary of State for the Holy See, Pietro Parolin.

U.S. officials say Pope Francis is launching a more active foreign policy for the Vatican, backing efforts to bring Syria's warring factions together at peace talks next week and supporting Secretary Kerry's work to find a two-state solution to the Israeli - Palestinian conflict.

"The resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians is a positive sign, and I pray that both parties will resolve, with the support of the international community, to take courageous decisions aimed at finding a just and lasting solution to a conflict which urgently needs to end," said Pope Francis.

Kerry and Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the head of diplomacy at the Vatican, discussed the Middle East on Tuesday, ahead of the Pope's planned trip to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories in May. Kerry says he briefed his Vatican counterpart on the status of Israeli Palestinian peace talks.

"There are issues of enormous concern to the Holy See not just about peace, but also about the freedom of access for religious worship in Jerusalem for all religions and appropriate resolution with respect to Jerusalem that respects that going forward," said Kerry.

The U.S.-led talks are struggling to overcome issues of security in a would-be Palestinian state. Israeli officials also want to guard against future rocket attacks .

Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and how they will affect the Palestinian state's borders are a source of disagreement between the two sides. Former U.S. ambassador Adam Ereli says there is little apparent room for compromise.

"I think they both want agreements, but they don't want agreements on terms acceptable to the other side. Israel wants a neutered Palestinian state where it has a security presence and that doesn't have access to East Jerusalem. Palestinians want a state they can be proud to call their own," said Ereli.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is under pressure to deliver on these talks, especially as Israeli settlement activity continues.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has questioned the Palestinian commitment to these talks, deepening what American University professor Hillary Mann Leverett says is a fortress mentality enabled by unwavering U.S. support.

"When you have constantly in American domestic politics this iron-clad security commitment to Israel with ever-more billions and billions of dollars of weapons systems going to the Israelis, it's like the wall. It builds a strategic concept of Fortress Israel where there is no incentive to compromise," said Mann Leverett.

Consultations here ahead of the pope's visit to the Middle East are part of Kerry's push to unify diplomatic pressure on Israeli and Palestinian leaders especially as the pontiff's trip will come near the end of nine months of scheduled talks on a two-state solution.