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Kerry makes calls abroad in first weekend on job

WASHINGTON – New Secretary of State John Kerry reached out to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in phone calls this weekend, assuring them the Obama administration will continue to pursue a Mideast peace agreement while recognizing the individual concerns on both sides.

Kerry told Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his and President Barack Obama's commitment to support Israel's security and to pursue a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu updated Kerry on his work to form a new government. They also discussed Iran and Syria, and pledged to work together closely.

Kerry commended the Israeli decision to release frozen tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority as an important step. Israel's monthly tax transfers to the Palestinians – the result of taxes and customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians – are a key element in the Palestinian government budget.

In his conversation Sunday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry said Obama "is very interested in the peace process and aware of the economic hardships of the Palestinian people," Abbas spokesman Nabel Abu Rdeneh said. Rdeneh also noted that Kerry said he would visit the region for further talks with Abbas "to preserve the political path." No time was set for the visit.

The State Department said Kerry spoke of his personal commitment to peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. Kerry pledged to continue efforts with the Congress to release budget support funds for the Palestinian Authority and noted the positive step the Israelis had taken by releasing the tax revenues.

The department also said Kerry spoke with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Saturday about the formation of the country's new government, and said the two "exchanged views" on the peace process and regional matters.

On a busy first weekend as America's top diplomat, Kerry also:

• Talked with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and agreed to work closely together to prepare for the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Washington later this month. He thanked Kishida for the role Japan plays in Afghanistan, Burma and in support of the Syrian opposition.

• Talked with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and agreed on the need to ensure that North Korea understands that it will face significant consequences from the international community if it continues its provocative behavior.

• Got an update from Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, about the investigation into Friday's suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

• Spoke with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird about Iran, Mali and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada to Texas.

• Spoke with Mexico's foreign minister, Jose Antonio Meade, about the deadly blast at the headquarters of Mexico's state-owned oil company.

• Had lunch with George Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan.

Kerry was sworn in Friday afternoon, succeeding Hillary Rodham Clinton in Obama's Cabinet.

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