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Israeli defense minister apologizes for comments about Kerry

By Steve Almasy, CNN
January 15, 2014 -- Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Israeli defense minister says he had no intention to offend Kerry
  • John Kerry has "misplaced obsession and messianic fervor," Moshe Yaalon quoted as saying
  • U.S. State Department calls the comments "offensive and inappropriate"
  • Kerry has said difficult choices lie ahead for Israeli, Palestinian negotiators

(CNN) -- U.S. officials reacted angrily Tuesday to comments attributed to Israel's defense minister criticizing Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians.

The derisive remarks appeared in a popular daily Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronot, and reflect Moshe Yaalon's skepticism of the Kerry-led U.S. efforts "both in private conversations in Israel and in the U.S."

"American Secretary of State John Kerry, who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor, cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians," Yaalon said, according to the paper.

Yaalon later issued an apology in a written statement sent to media from the Defense Ministry.

"Israel and the United States share a common goal to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry. We appreciate Secretary Kerry's many efforts towards that end," the release said. "The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister."

Israeli defense chief apologizes to Kerry

Earlier, the U.S. State Department issued a harsh rebuke. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said it was shocking that a close ally would question Kerry's motives.

"If these comments are accurate, we find the remarks of the defense minister to be offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the United States has done to support Israel's security needs and will continue to do," she said at a regular media briefing. "Secretary Kerry and his team, including Gen. (John) Allen, have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the secretary's deep concern for Israel's future."

President Barack Obama's press secretary Jay Carney said much the same thing to reporters at the daily news conference at the White House. He added that Kerry met Sunday in Paris with Arab leaders to discuss peace initiatives, efforts that will continue.

"We're pressing forward with both the Israelis and the Palestinians on this process and hope that it bears fruit," he said.

Kerry recently visited Jerusalem where he met multiple times with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He declined to share details of the conversations with reporters but told them that progress was being made during the trip, his ninth to the region since becoming secretary about a year ago.

"We're at the table today because of the determination to try to resolve this issue, and both of them have made the tough choices to stay at that table," he said January 5. "We are now at a point where the choices narrow down and the choices are obviously real and difficult. And so we -- the United States, President Obama, myself -- will do everything in our power to help the parties be able to see the road ahead in ways that will meet the interests of both of their peoples."

Kerry has floated a proposal based on five months of intensive consultations with Israelis and Palestinians since the resumption of the peace process last summer.

Yaalon was quoted Tuesday as saying: "The American security plan presented to us is not worth the paper it's written on. It contains no peace and no security."

Sa'eb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and a member of the executive committee of the PLO, told CNN the comments were another indication that the Israeli government was trying to sabotage Kerry's efforts. Israel wants to dictate terms, not negotiate, he told CNN.

"This is absolutely inappropriate and extremely despicable statements, because Mr. Kerry is exerting every possible human effort for the sake of peace for the Palestinians and Israelis, and he should not be rewarded with such statements from Yaalon or somebody else," he said.

CNN's Michael Schwartz and Kareem Khadder contributed to this report.

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