Kerry pushes Turkey-Israel rapprochement

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ISTANBUL -- Secretary of State John Kerry urged Turkey Sunday to accomplish a U.S.-brokered rapprochement with Israel, and he explored with Palestinian officials new ways to restart Mideast peace efforts.

Those are second-term foreign policy priorities for President Barack Obama, and Kerry tried to advance them in meetings with Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

On a trip to Israel last month, Obama secured a pledge from Turkish and Israeli leaders to normalize ties that broke down after a 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed eight Turks and a Turkish-American.

But the rapprochement has been slow, fueling concerns that Turkey may be backsliding on its commitment.

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Israeli and Turkish negotiators plan to meet this week to discuss Turkey's demand for compensation for victims of the flotilla. U.S. officials hope the discussions will jump-start the process of restoring full diplomatic relations and exchanging ambassadors between two countries that Washington sees as vital strategic partners in the volatile Middle East.

The raid sparked outrage in Muslim-majority Turkey, making it politically difficult for the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to bend to persistent U.S. appeals to improve relations with Israel. In March, Obama extracted an apology for the raid from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that broke the stalemate. -- AP

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