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Kerry, Netanyahu Discuss Recent Violence In Israel


Secretary of State John Kerry met today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a stop in Berlin. Over the weekend, he'll talk with the Palestinian Authority President. Kerry says both sides need to tone down the rhetoric fueling recent attacks in Jerusalem. And that's not all. Tomorrow Kerry will be in Vienna talking about Syria with representatives from Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen, on John Kerry's very full plate in the Middle East.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In a Berlin hotel room, Prime Minister Netanyahu sat down with Kerry to explain why he thinks there's been so much violence in recent weeks. He says Palestinians, including the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, have been spreading falsehoods and inciting attacks on Jews.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I think it's time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas, stop spreading lies about Israel - lies that Israel wants to change the status quo of the Temple Mount. Lies that Israel wants to tear down the Al-Aqsa Mosque and lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All of that is false.

KELEMEN: Netanyahu says Israel is upholding the status quo at the Temple Mount, known by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Last year, Secretary Kerry facilitated talks between Israel and Jordan, which oversees access to the site. But U.S. officials say those understandings reached then have begun to fray, and Kerry wants to clarify the unwritten rules about visiting the site.


JOHN KERRY: If parties want to try, and I believe they do want to move to a de-escalation, I think there are a set of choices that are available.

KELEMEN: Hoarse from all of his travel and meetings, Kerry says he will meet Jordan's King Abdullah as well as Abbas in Jordan on Saturday, and he hopes everyone will, as he puts it, seize the moment and pull back from the precipice.


KERRY: End the incitement, end the violence and commence a road that people can really understand is a road that takes people somewhere.

KELEMEN: His other diplomatic mission on this trip isn't any easier. Kerry is now in Vienna for talks with the foreign ministers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Russia to try to figure out some way to resolve the conflict in Syria. The secretary says everyone agrees that Syria should remain united, secular and pluralistic and that there needs to be a political solution to the civil war.


KERRY: One thing stands in the way of being able to rapidly move to implement that, and it's a person called Assad - Bashar al-Assad.

KELEMEN: The U.S. is still talking about the need for a political transition away from Assad, even as Russia carries out airstrikes in support of Assad's forces and rolled out the red carpet for the Syrian leader this week. U.S. officials insist they weren't surprised by that visit, and they seem to think they can still work with Russia on a political solution. That certainly is the hope of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who spoke through an interpreter alongside Kerry in Berlin today.


FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER: (Through interpreter) Finding a political solution will depend on whether Washington and Moscow find bridges and can build bridges. I think this is a prerequisite.

KELEMEN: The German foreign minister says Russia's military action in Syria has made the situation more complicated. It has increased the humanitarian suffering, he says, and is forcing more Syrians to flee, adding to a migrant crisis that has engulfed Syria's neighbors as well as Europe.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Vienna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.