Kerry hits the road: Pitfalls ahead
Secretary of State John Kerry boards his plane at Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday before leaving for his first official trip in his new role.
February 24th, 2013
09:02 AM ET

Kerry hits the road: Pitfalls ahead

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.

Shortly afterward, the U.S. State Department condemned the attacks "in the strongest possible terms."

Another wildcard on this trip is Egypt, where anti-government protests continue as the nation's economy struggles. But the State Department says don't expect Kerry to chart any new policy on this trip. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters: "He's characterizing this first trip more broadly as a listening tour."

Just days before his trip, in his first major foreign policy address, Kerry made the case to an American audience why the stakes for U.S. global engagement are so high.

"In today's global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy," he said. "More than ever before, the decisions that we make from the safety of our shores don't just ripple outward, they also create a current right here in America."

Former high-level diplomats say the eyes of the world will be on Kerry during this trip - and on where he flies. Nicholas Burns, former under-secretary of state for political affairs, tells CNN: "The first trips by American secretaries of state are watched very closely. There is a lot of symbolism attached to them. People look for clues as to which region is most important to the United States."

Inevitably, Kerry will be compared with Clinton, who had sky-high popularity around the world.

"Nobody is the rock star Hillary Clinton is," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says.

But Kerry, who, as a 12-year-old boy, lived in Berlin, brings his own credentials. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he got to know many world leaders. He served as President Barack Obama's personal envoy for delicate political missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Albright says Kerry is more than ready to take the lead as America's top diplomat to the world.

"I have known him a very long time and, as somebody who comes from the Foreign Relations Committee, he has clearly dealt with all the issues and understands their background and depth - and the kind of the unintended consequences of various decisions."

That last phrase may be crucial. Most of this first trip is designed to be diplomatically safe. But plans made in Washington are one thing. The reality on the road, especially in Syria and the rest of the Middle East, is another.

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  40. russell lee

    Gore did not win because he failed to run on Clinton's record. He was too good to do that. But Clinton was/is a winner.

    February 26, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  41. Apzal

    soon usa taxpayers will gift Pakistan 100s of billions for helping usa in afghan.
    we are true friends and allieds
    kerry is welcome in Pak for visit anytime, with check in hand, of course, no matter how much amerikans cry and complain, don listen to these childish complaners

    February 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  42. Vajam

    Majav, what on earth are you going on about? UK owns Australia? US base in Perth WA? Fruit loop.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  43. alf564

    Hey, I heard he called the leader of the Syrian resistance and invited him to London for a meeting. I guess we are going to surrender to the "muslim Brotherhood Arm" of the Syrian rebels....amazing how quickly he was able to accomplish this surrender. Much better than Hillery

    February 25, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Reply
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    Only North Korea and Iran stands up.

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  45. alf564

    Did he surrender to Iran and North Korea yet? I really believe that is the mission the President sent him out to

    February 25, 2013 at 7:28 am | Reply
  46. Majav

    I like Kerry. I always have. It is such a tragedy that Gore didn't win and Kerry could be el Presidente now.

    He lends professionalism, instead of celebrity, to politics. It is most welcome.

    Good Luck Mr Kerry, peace on earth and goodwill toward all. Not too difficult conceptually, at least.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:11 am | Reply
  47. helenecha

    Well, he doesn't look like that he has left his belongings.

    February 24, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Reply
  48. empresstrudy

    He's not going to Israel so liberals can heave sigh of relief. All Hail Sharia.

    February 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  49. Wilson Emmy

    Believe it or not the world would have seize to exist if America failed in its duty to police it. We should begin to acknowledge this fact even though as Americans we have become so blind and seared to see and appreciate facts. I am an African, Nigerian to be precise, I understand the fact that America's foreign policies does not favour everyone especially the so called revolutionists (Iran and co), but you can be in the good list if you wish, CHOICE is the most valued gift nature offers us humans. On Gods on country we will queue...Long live America, Long live Israel

    February 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • Majav

      Hogwash. China and India are ancient civilizations and will surpass on in a couple of decades. You sound so British Empire and Palestinian Mandate. America will find her place, I just hope it isn't as a has-been war mongerer like long forgotten Prussia. Not even the Turks were so foolish.

      February 25, 2013 at 6:15 am | Reply
  50. Ron

    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.

    Right, traditional allies like Saudi Arabia – that country that exports islamic terrorists like Osama Bin Laden and all of his gang of criminals that attacked the WTC. That's some list of allies Kerry. Are you going to kneel down and kiss their king's boots like Obama.

    When that trip is done Kerry, are you going to visit our traditional enemies like Canada and tell them how your don't want their dirty oil pipeline, and how clean oil from your beloved friends in Islam tastes so much better.

    Kerry, you are a dangerous hypocrite. Maybe you can promise to transfer new bomb technology to Saudi Arabia while you are at it, and declare a trade embargo against our enemy Canada.

    February 24, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Reply
    • WWJreallyD

      so what part of "begins with a warm embrace" do you find difficult to understand?

      February 24, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Reply
    • AdeC

      America has been UK's ally for years yet America didn't say squat about Irish Americans funding the IRA's bombing campaign against Britain. So much for ethics eh?

      February 25, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  51. StanCalif

    So, Kerry is flying to many countries bringing promises he cannot keep! Hillary flew everywhere already, what results did she achieve? NOTHING. Let's start this "sequester" by grounding the Sec. of State, Any foreign country that wants our support should come here and make their case. Of course, Israel is a big exception! Israel controls our Congress!!! No need for Kerry to visit Israel!

    February 24, 2013 at 10:04 am | Reply
    • Majav

      Hillary got a US funded and manned military base in Perth Australia and not one word of it in the USA despite that the UK "owns" Australia and the Queen can fund her own defense. This all while Benghazi was going down.

      February 25, 2013 at 6:19 am | Reply

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