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Kerry pushes Israel, Turkey rapprochement, in face of hurdles

ISTANBUL -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry struggled Sunday to convince Turkey's leaders they should promptly restore full diplomatic ties with Israel, two American allies counted on by President Barack Obama to help calm the turbulent Middle East.

But Turkey demanded that Israel first end all commercial restrictions against the Palestinians before the once-close partners could end their estrangement, which stems from an Israeli raid in 2010 on a flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip. Eight Turks and a Turkish-American died.

Obama revived the rapprochement during a visit to Israel last month, and Kerry aimed to firm that up in Istanbul, the first stop in a 10-day trip.

The stakes are high, given that the United States sees Turkey and Israel as anchors of stability in a region riven by Syria's civil war, Arab Spring political upheavals and the potential threat posed by Iran's nuclear program.

"We would like to see this relationship that is important to stability in the Middle East and critical to the peace process . . . get back on track in its full measure," Kerry told reporters at a news conference with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Kerry said that meant promises of "compensation be fulfilled, ambassadors be returned and that full relationship be embraced." He also met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and then went to Israel.

But Davutoglu suggested that full normalization of ties would probably take some time and signaled that Turkey would pursue a "careful" advance toward a complete restoration of relations, with compensation and an end to Israeli trade restrictions on the Gaza Strip as the stumbling blocks.

"All of the embargoes should be eliminated once and for all," he said through an interpreter.

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