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Kerry makes first foreign trip as top US diplomat
Published Sunday 24/02/2013 (updated) 27/02/2013 17:46
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- John Kerry views his first trip as US secretary of state as a listening tour, but the leaders he meets will want to hear whether he has any new ideas on Syria, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry leaves on Sunday for London, the first stop on a nine-nation, 11-day trip that will also take him to Berlin, Paris, Rome, Ankara, Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha before he returns home on March 6.

It is an introductory trip for a man who needs little introduction abroad after spending 28 years in the US Senate, all of them as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the last four as its chairman.

After talks with allies in London, Berlin and Paris, Kerry travels to Rome to meet members of the Syrian opposition as well as a wider group of nations seeking to support them in their nearly two-year quest to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.

While the opposition Syrian National Coalition is willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the country's civil war, members this week agreed that Assad must step down and cannot be a party to any settlement.

The political chasm between the sides, along with a lack of opposition influence over rebels on the ground and an international diplomatic deadlock preventing effective intervention, has allowed fighting to rage on. Almost 70,000 people have been killed in 22 months of conflict, according to a UN estimate.

US President Barack Obama has limited US support to non-lethal aid for the rebels who, despite receiving weapons from countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are poorly armed compared to Assad's army and loyalist militias.

Although the Obama administration appears to be rethinking the question of arming the rebels, there are few signs it is on the verge of a new approach toward Syria, said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank.

"I have a hard time imagining that this is the time to float a new American strategy because he (Kerry) still doesn't have a counterpart in the Department of Defense (and) the new administration is still getting set up," Alterman said.

"I don't see any sign that there is a new strategy but I do see signs that he wants to be engaged and understand what the options are for moving something in a different direction," he said.

Iran talks

Kerry makes his first foreign trip as senior US diplomats, along with counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, will meet Iranian officials on Tuesday in Kazakhstan in an effort to persuade Iran to curtail its nuclear program.

The United States and many of its allies suspect Iran may be using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons, a possibility that Israel, which is regarded as the Middle East's only nuclear power, sees as an existential threat.

Iran says its program is solely for peaceful purposes, such as generating electricity and making medical isotopes.

Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution think-tank said Saudi King Abdullah would regard himself, rather than Kerry, as the listening party and want to hear of any new US approaches on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran and other issues.

"The secretary has the tough job of selling as something new an administration (whose) foreign policies are pretty well established," Riedel said.

"There is not a high level of expectation that it is going to be able to break the logjam on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, get Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program and topple Bashar al-Assad," he added.

"The Saudis will understand that Kerry will try to put a new face on policies which are now pretty well known but they will be looking for what's new."
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1 ) Mel / USA
24/02/2013 17:57
"Listening tour"?LOL! Is that D.C.spin-speak for"No comment,lest U want to buy more US WEPS"?While the Wahhabi's say,"Well,are you going to BOMB Shiites for us,or do we get SINO-nuclear heads for our Wahhabi med-range missiles & do it ourselves(after we SHUT off the oil-spigots to US)"?Remember public-servant Kerry,you represent NPT-IAEA USA,& our NPT-IAEA co-signatory/partners(Iran)which SHOULD BE OUR CLOSE ALLIES,&progressive trading partners. U DON'T speak 4 ROGUE NUKE Occupiers & OIL CEO's!!

2 ) Reader / from Edmonton
24/02/2013 19:24
Will John Kerry have the opportunity to meet with Jadarat's murderers?

3 ) Mel / USA
24/02/2013 21:09
I hope RAYTHEON is paying this BILLIONAIRES travel bills,& NOT us US tax-payers??Because corporate-servant Kerry is more loyal to PRIVATE lobbyists than global peace,real US Nat Sec,or 340 MILLION Americans(45 MILLION IN POVERTY)& corporatists don't profit from PEACE! The few control the MANY by poverty,WEAPONS & WAR! So,how are you Mr.Kerry planning to make USA safer,with US foreign policy in the sh*t-pit,it's in right now,from Israel,Palestine,Saudi,the Gulf States to EURASIA?
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