John Kerry, the new secretary of state, called Israeli and Palestinian leaders during the weekend, assuring them the Obama administration will continue to pursue a Middle East peace agreement while recognizing the individual concerns on both sides.
Kerry told Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his and the president’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 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 Middle East and participate in 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 working with 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.
Kerry talked with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and agreed to work closely with him to prepare for the visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Washington this month.
Kerry spoke with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and agreed on the need to ensure that North Korea understands it will face significant consequences from the international community if it continues provocative behavior.
He also talked with the foreign ministers of Turkey, Canada, and Mexico.
Kerry was sworn in Friday afternoon, succeeding Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Reid supports Menendez on ties to scrutinized doctor
Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Sunday that he has the ‘‘utmost confidence’’ in fellow Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and has confidence the New Jersey legislator ‘‘did nothing wrong’’ in associating with a prominent political donor who appears to be under investigation by the FBI.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,’’ Reid said, “that’s what investigations are all about.’’ He said he is comfortable with Menendez serving as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Menendez’s office last week disclosed that he reimbursed the donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, for the full cost of two trips that Menendez took in 2010 to the Dominican Republic. The FBI searched the eye doctor’s office in a raid that took place on Tuesday night and early Wednesday.
NRA official continues opposition to gun checks
WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association’s executive vice president continued to oppose background checks for all gun purchases despite polls indicating most NRA members don’t share his position.
The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre said on ‘‘Fox News Sunday’’ that background checks for all gun purchases would lead to a national registry of gun owners. Critics say such a registry could lead to taxes on guns or to confiscation.
Mark Kelly, a gun owner and husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who survived a 2011 shooting, asked LaPierre to listen to his members. He said the current system prevented 1.7 million gun purchases since 1999. However, those potential buyers had other options because many gun sales don’t require a background check.
‘‘Members of the NRA tend to be very reasonable on this issue,’’ said Kelly, who also appeared on the Fox show.