Kerry mulls visit to Syrian refugee camp

Jul 16, 2013, 1:58 PM EDT
US Secretary of State John Kerry steps off his plane upon his arrival at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan on July 16, 2013.
AFP/Getty Images

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday he may visit a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan as he launched a new round of Middle East diplomacy amid deteriorating conditions in Syria and the ongoing unrest in Egypt.

On his sixth trip to the region in as many months as America's top diplomat, Kerry said in Amman that he wanted to visit Syrian refugees to hear their concerns about the situation in the country, where western- and Gulf Arab-backed opposition forces appear to be losing ground to President Bashar Assad's regime.

"I think we may wind up visiting one of the refugee camps as we talk about Syria," he told reporters after a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. "We were just talking about the importance of that."

Judeh said Kerry had expressed concerns about the economic impact that the humanitarian crisis in Syria has had in Jordan, which hosts more than a half million displaced Syrians.

State Department officials said Kerry's visit to a refugee camp was not finalized but that he had expressed interest in going to one before he is scheduled to return to the United States on Thursday.

Should the visit materialize, it would be the first by an Obama administration Cabinet-level figure to Syrian refugees, some of whom have complained about a lack of U.S. support. In addition, Syrian rebels have complained that they are not receiving promised military assistance from Washington.

Kerry is in Jordan for a meeting on Wednesday with Arab foreign ministers to brief them on his efforts to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. He had pledged earlier this year to update the Arab League nations that support a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace plan first proposed by Saudi Arabia.

He is also expected to discuss U.S. strategy for Syria and Egypt since the military ouster of the country's first democratically elected president.

It had been expected that the peace process would be a central focus of his trip, but unlike on his previous visits, he had no plans to travel to Israel or the Palestinian Authority. U.S. officials have dampened expectations that there would be any kind of breakthrough or announcement on resuming direct talks.

After meeting Judeh on Tuesday, Kerry was to have a private, one-on-one dinner with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has a home in Amman.

Kerry has spent hours with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trying to set the stage for a return to peace talks that foundered and collapsed in 2008. Kerry insists that progress has been made but there have been few, if any, discernible signs that the two sides are getting closer to agreeing to discuss the major issues that divide them.