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updated: 3/29/2014 10:55 AM

Kerry cancels US return en route from Mideast

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Associated Press

SHANNON, Ireland -- Halfway home from Saudi Arabia, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry has abruptly changed course and will stay in Europe for talks on the Ukraine crisis.

Flying from Riyadh to Shannon, Ireland, for a refueling stop on Saturday, March 29, Kerry decided to turn his plane around and was traveling to Paris for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as early as Sunday or Monday. Kerry spoke to Lavrov on the flight after President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a call on Friday to have their foreign ministers meet to discuss a possible diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine situation.

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"Secretary Kerry will travel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Paris, France today in advance of a to-be-scheduled meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov early next week in Europe," State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Saturday.

Kerry had already been due to return to Europe on Tuesday for a NATO foreign ministers meeting and had been considering returning to the Middle East to continue a press to salvage foundering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Kerry aides said the option of going to Israel, the Palestinian territories or Jordan remained a possibility.

Psaki said Saturday Kerry would remain in close touch with Martin Indyk, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, and the negotiating team in Jerusalem and Ramallah, West Bank, in the event Kerry needs to return to the region from Paris in advance of NATO.

Kerry had been in Riyadh, as well as Rome and The Hague, with President Barack Obama this week but is traveling on his own plane.

He had made a side trip to Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas while Obama visited Brussels. Kerry has also had several conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he left Washington last Monday.

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