11282014Fri

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

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.

"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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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."

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Paul Simao)

Search

Act of Cowardice

Iran's ruling tyrants have executed yet another political prisoner in flagrant violation of international law.  READ MORE

The rush to Tehran amidst rise in executions

World leaders should halt these visits and link any deal with Iran to its human rights record.  READ MORE

Arming a dictator

What if President Obama ordered the sale of arms to Syrian dictator to massacre his opponents? READ MORE

Slaughter intensifies under Rouhani

231 executions have occurred since the presidential election in June which brought to power Hassan Rouhani. READ MORE

Silence is not the answer

Iran: Bloody crackdown targeting dissidents aims at terrorizing the people into submission. READ MORE

Iran’s Murder Machine

The wheels of Iran's Murder Machine turn in tandem with its nuclear machine. READ MORE

What now?

The West must drop the dangerous pretence that talking to a regime not interested in listening constitutes the winning strategy. READ MORE

A facelift

This cosmetic facelift should not dupe the West into thinking that there are fresh prospects for a nuclear deal. READ MORE

An Act of Cowardice

The terrorist attack against Iranian exiles at Camp Liberty, Iraq, is another sign of Iranian regime's weakness. READ MORE

Much atalk about nothing

In Istanbul they merely agreed to talk about talking later in May in Baghdad, of all places. READ MORE

An unholy alliance

The brutal state-imposed bloodbath in Syria deserves uncompromising reproach. READ MORE

Iran cries for freedom

The clerical regime in Iran has predictably unleashed another wave of terror against the citizenry since the outburst of the latest string of mass protests beginning on 14 February. READ MORE

A new Iran policy

The latest round of nuclear talks had an all-too-familiar result: more time for Tehran and less time for the international community to prevent a nuclear-armed theocracy. READ MORE

Murder overlooked

What would the rest of us do if a mad gunman was in our midst, systematically murdering our fellow human beings in front of our eyes? The responsible amongst us would not look the other way, because that would serve as a source of encouragement for the murderers to carry on with their heinous acts unchecked. READ MORE

Standing up to Iran's executioners

The Iranian regime's malicious noose has yet again taken an innocent life. Political prisoner Ali Saremi, 63, was hanged in Tehran's infamous Evin prison after a lifetime of peacefully espousing human rights and democracy. READ MORE