Far from the staid chambers of the Senate, Secretary of State John Kerry has been presented with a full plate of global crises as he plots his maiden voyage abroad: Egypt in chaos, Syria engulfed in civil war, moribund Mideast peace talks and North Korea threatening to detonate an atomic bomb while Iran moves closer to developing one of its own.
As he seals his transition from legislator to diplomat with his first official trip overseas, Kerry will have to deal with all of these unresolved diplomatic crises even as he looks to put his personal stamp on American foreign policy by cementing traditional trans-Atlantic ties with U.S. allies and preparing for President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to the Middle East.
Washington-based diplomats say the former Massachusetts senator and 2004 presidential candidate is likely to embark on his first trip as secretary to Europe and the Middle East in the last week of February.
The exact itinerary has yet to be determined, but Kerry is expected in several European capitals and Israel, the Palestinian territories and possibly Egypt, according to the diplomats.
The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. The State Department declined to comment on Kerry’s potential travel plans.
“This is a complicated time in the world,” Kerry told a visiting group of college students in marked understatement on his third day at the State Department.
Thus far, he has spent most of his time to getting to know his staff and speaking to foreign leaders, and little time publicly talking geopolitics. He echoed the White House’s call last week for tougher European Union action against Hizbullah and decried Pyongyang’s threat of a third nuclear test. And at his first official news conference Friday, he warned Iran to seriously approach upcoming nuclear talks with world powers and declared that the Obama administration was exploring new options — primarily diplomatic — to stem the violence in Syria.
Going abroad will be a bigger challenge.
In Europe and the Mideast, Kerry will come face-to-face on foreign soil with demanding allies and estranged partners. He’ll have to introduce himself — again — to people around the world who may often distrust America’s overwhelming military and diplomatic power, or fear a more withdrawn U.S. foreign policy might empower international rivals such as China or rogues like Iran to expand their international influence.