Kerry makes first foreign trip as top U.S. diplomat

Sun Feb 24, 2013 7:16am EST
 

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - John Kerry views his first trip as U.S. 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 left Washington 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 U.S. 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 al-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 U.N. estimate.

U.S. President Barack Obama has limited U.S. 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.   Continued...

 
Secretary of State John Kerry smiles following his meeting with Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird (not pictured) at the State Department in Washington, February 8, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed