By Jill Dougherty, reporting from London
John Kerry's first international trip as secretary of state is right out of diplomatic "central casting" - at least the first half, designed to avoid diplomatic pitfalls. But that may end up being impossible.
The 11-day, nine-country sojourn - to England, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar - begins with a warm embrace for America's traditional European allies.
Four years ago, his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, headed east, as part of the Obama administration's "pivot to Asia." Kerry will reassure Europe that it still matters to Washington. What's more, the administration needs Europe's help on the heavy-lifting issues of stopping Iran's nuclear program and for any next steps to help the Syrian opposition.
But even before he departs Washington, there's trouble. On Saturday, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, angered about what it called international inaction on Syrian government attacks against Aleppo, announced it was boycotting an international meeting in Rome where its representatives were expected to meet Kerry.