The Cable

Kerry’s first trip will be to Europe and the Middle East

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."

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Cable

Russia’s foreign minister still hasn’t called Kerry back

As you head off for your Presidents' Day weekend, The Cable would just like to note that it's now been over 72 hours since Secretary of State John Kerry reached out to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- without getting a call back.

As The Cable reported earlier this week, Kerry reached out to Lavrov after North Korea detonated a nuclear bomb on Feb. 11, as well as the foreign ministers of Japan, China, and South Korea. Lavrov, who has been traveling in Africa, is the only foreign minister who didn't answer or return Kerry's call. The State Department is trying very hard not to seem upset about the perceived snub.

"Well, first of all, let me say that we are relaxed. The secretary is relaxed about this," outgoing State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday. "From our perspective, the secretary would like to talk to him. It's up to him whether he wants to take that opportunity."

Today, reporters at the State Department briefing were flabbergasted that it is taking this long for the Russian leader to respond.

"Our daily question about Mr. Lavrov:  Has he returned the phone call? Have you found him? Is he missing in action?" one reporter asked.

"They have not yet connected by phone," Nuland said.

"I mean, this is getting kind of ridiculous, isn't it?" another reporter asked her.

"Look, as we said at that time, as I've been saying all week, we're making it clear that we would like to talk if they want to. If they are too busy or otherwise engaged, the offer stands, and we'll continue to do other diplomacy," she responded.

Kerry and Lavrov have spoken on the phone just once since the former senator became secretary, and the conversation was all about communicating, Nuland said at the time

"In the phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov, they obviously started with how important it is to work hard on both sides to maintain the bilateral channel, to keep open lines of communication together, to collaborate as much as we can on as much as we can, but also to be frank with each other when we have disagreements," she said on Feb. 6.

"Do you find this inconsistent with Foreign Minister Lavrov's having said it was important to keep lines of communication open that he won't take the call?" Nuland was asked Friday.

"Again, I'm going to refer you to the Russians," she said.