U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will embark next week on a two-week tour of Europe and the Middle East, with a heavy focus on Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kerry will leave Feb. 24 on his first overseas voyage since replacing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and will visit the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, outgoing spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement Tuesday.
"He's characterizing this first trip more broadly as a listening tour," Nuland explained.
It's an ambitious trip that will bring Kerry back to Washington on March 7, two weeks before President Barack Obama is set to travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. But Kerry won't be going to any of those countries, despite some chatter around State that he had wanted to include those stops.
"Given the fact that the government's coalition negotiations in Israel are still under way, the secretary will be traveling there with the president when he visits later in the spring in lieu of making his own separate trip in February to Jerusalem and Ramallah," Nuland explained.
In Germany, Kerry will be able to reconnect with the city of Berlin, where he lived as a child when his father was a Foreign Service officer there, Nuland said. At Kerry's Feb. 4 introductory remarks to State Department employees, he told the story of how as a 12-year-old, he rode his bicycle into communist-controlled East Berlin and became aware of the stark reality of living behind the Iron Curtain and the value of living in a free democracy.
In Paris, the French-led international intervention in Mali will top the agenda. In Rome, Kerry will attend a multilateral meeting on Syria and meet with the leaders of the Syrian opposition coalition.
"My understanding is that we're expecting eight to 10 of the countries who have been the biggest supporters of the opposition to be there and also for the opposition to be in that meeting, to present its views on how it's going and how the international community can continue to support," Nuland said. "And then there'll be a separate meeting that the secretary will have with the SOC [Syrian opposition coalition] leadership."
Syria will also be high on the agenda in Ankara, where Kerry will also discuss counterterrorism. In Cairo, Kerry will meet with senior Egyptian officials, Arab League Secretary Nabil El-Araby, other political figures, civil society leaders, and the business community "to encourage greater political consensus and moving forward on economic reforms," Nuland said.
In Riyadh, Kerry will meet with Saudi leadership and also attend a ministers'-level meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. From there he will go on to Abu Dhabi and then Doha, where Syia, Afghanistan, and Middle East peace will top the issue list, according to Nuland.
Reporters at Tuesday's briefing noted that there are no Asia stops on Kerry's first trip, although Clinton made her first overseas trip to that region and the "rebalancing" of American attention to Asia was a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy in Obama's first term.
"I think were we to add any more stops on this first trip, an already long excursion would be even longer. I think you can certainly expect that Secretary Kerry will visit Asia early in his tenure," Nuland said. "I'm getting tired just thinking about it."
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