By Elise Labott
Jerusalem (CNN) - John Kerry’s ninth trip to Israel since becoming secretary of state could be among the most difficult.
He needs Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s buy-in for the two issues U.S. President Barack Obama has declared the centerpiece of his second term foreign policy – Iran and Middle East peace.
But at a time when the Israeli leader’s confidence in the United States is shaken over the Iran deal, his trust in the administration as broker of a peace deal with the Palestinians may waver.
By CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott
John Kerry felt a happy hour at a Moldovan winery would serve as a fruitful backdrop for his message, not just to his hosts but to the demonstrators on the streets of Kiev.
This week the secretary of state had planned to visit the Ukrainian capital. But President Viktor Yanukovich's decision not to sign a political and trade agreement with the European Union drew the largest protests in Ukraine since the 2004 Orange Revolution and a violent government in response.
By Jennifer Rizzo and Shirley Henry
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said Wednesday he clearly understands a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 - known as the "zero option" - is a "possibility" given Afghan President Hamid Karzai's current unwillingness to sign the security pact that would govern some troops remaining in his country beyond that time frame.
But Dempsey also said he has not been told to plan for such a withdrawal.
By Jennifer Liberto
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday announced that he's trimming the budget for Pentagon headquarters by 20% starting in 2014, leading to jobs cuts and reduction in contracts with private companies.
The cuts will happen even if Congress ends sequester, according to the defense agency. Hagel said the time is right to "pare back overhead and streamline headquarters," after the fast growth of the agency in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"These reductions are only a first step in DoD's efforts to realign defense spending to meet new fiscal realities and strategic priorities," Hagel said.
The cuts would trim $1 billion from 2014 through 2019. Hagel said the first jobs to be cut will about 200 workers from his own team of 2,400.FULL STORY
By Michael Pearson. Holly Yan and Mariano Castillo
The United States has "deep concerns" over China's newly declared East China Sea air defense zone, Vice President Joe Biden privately told Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing on Wednesday, according to a pool report citing senior administration officials traveling with the delegation.
According to the pool account of a background briefing by the officials, Biden also told Xi that the United States doesn't recognize the zone - which includes uninhabited islands that have been the site of tense disputes between China and Japan, both of which claim the lands for their own.
"President Xi was equally clear in laying out their view of the zone and of territorials disputes in the region," one of the officials said, according to the pool report. "Ultimately, President Xi took on board what the vice president said. It's up to China, and we'll see how things will unfold in the coming days and weeks."
Biden had assured Japanese leaders on Tuesday that he would raise the issue with Xi, but it was not mentioned publicly by either leader.
By Elise Labott
The protests in Ukraine against President Viktor Yanukovich's last-minute decision not to sign a political and trade agreement with the European Union are the biggest in the country since the 2004 Orange Revolution that booted Yanukovich, then Prime Minister, from office.
And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was tough Tuesday in his criticism of the government's use of force against the peaceful demonstrators, saying "violence has no place in a modern European state."
But his decision to skip a visit to Kiev and attend a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe wasn't necessarily a response to the political upheaval and a voice of support for the protesters, nor was it an indictment of the government's heavy-handed methods to combat it.
The snub was, in effect, a U.S. protest of the government's moves to align its trade interests with Moscow by deciding not to join the EU agreement. The so-called Eastern Partnership is designed to forge closer EU ties to Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The U.S. military, facing continuing protests over drone strikes, has halted military cargo shipments from Afghanistan, citing a potential risk to drivers and contractors along the route once it enters Pakistan.
"We are aware protests have affected one of the primary commercial transit routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have voluntarily halted U.S. shipments," Defense Department spokesman Mark Wright said.FULL STORY
By Laura Koran
The inspiration for the leading female role in the 80s blockbuster movie “Top Gun,” has soared to new heights in real life.
Christine Fox has become the first woman appointed to the Pentagon’s No. 2 job, set to serve in an acting capacity until a permanent successor is named.
Her boss, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, called Fox, "a brilliant defense thinker and proven manager."
Fox most recently held a top-level defense post where she played a large role in determining budget priorities.
By Brian Rokus and Barbara Starr
Does Santa need more than just Rudolph’s red nose to guide his sleigh on Christmas Eve this year?
Like, maybe, two fighter jets?
A new video released by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to promote its annual tracking of Santa’s trip around the world is drawing fire from some children’s advocates.
In the 39-second clip, Santa is shown flying across the globe, tracked by an Air Force radar surveillance plane and, at one point, being escorted by two fighters.
By Elise Labott
NATO warned it may be forced to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year if President Hamid Karzai doesn't sign a security agreement with the United States.
Reached last month, the pact lays out the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, when the NATO-led force of some 80,000 troops is scheduled to leave.
Although the agreement was endorsed by the Afghan council of tribal leaders, called the Loya Jirga, Karzai said he won't sign it until after elections in April.
Uncertainty over the agreement is causing mounting anxiety among diplomats here, where Afghanistan is dominating talks among NATO ministers, including Secretary of State John Kerry.