U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has begun a trip that will see him visiting nine countries in Western Europe and the Middle East, his first overseas trip since assuming his post three weeks ago.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Kerry is calling the trip "a listening tour" and sees it as a chance to discuss bilateral and global issues with key U.S. allies.
She said his meetings will focus on “the challenges of new democracies, fragile democracies, [and] the challenge from extremists seeking to hijack some of the Arab Spring revolutions.”
"I think he's very committed to having good conversations, both with European allies and partners, but also with Middle Eastern partners on how we are approaching that whole complex of issues from Libya to Tunisia to Egypt to Syria, the combined challenge of Iran, all of those things. So I think you'll hear all of those themes come up on this trip," Nuland said.
Kerry held talks in London on February 25. He will also visit Paris, Istanbul, and Rome, where he’ll attend a meeting of nations supporting the Syrian opposition to discuss how to hasten political transition in the civil war-wracked country.
There, he will also hold a separate meeting with members of the Syrian Opposition Council. Nuland said he wants to hear "what more they think we can do" in their struggle against President Bashar al-Assad's government forces.
However, the main Syrian opposition alliance has since announced it will not attend the meeting in Rome in protest at what it said was the international community's "shameful" failure to stop the violence in Syria.
The United States has so far resisted pressure to provide the opposition with arms, focusing instead on nonlethal assistance, humanitarian aid, and support for local coordinating councils in liberated areas.
On this trip, Kerry will also hold his first meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during a stop in Berlin.
The State Department said the two men will “discuss a wide range of bilateral and international issues.” Nuland said “particular emphasis” is likely to be put on North Korea, Syria, and Iran.
Moscow, a close ally of Damascus, has repeatedly thwarted the Obama administration’s hopes for a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict.
In Egypt, Kerry will meet with senior officials and key political stakeholders to encourage political consensus and economic reform. The once strong American ally has been riven by protests over changes imposed by new President Muhammad Morsi.
On February 20, in his first major speech as secretary of state, Kerry argued that foreign policy is relevant to every American.
"In today's global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy. More than ever before, the decisions we make from the safety of our shores don't just ripple outward -- they also create a current right here in America. How we conduct our foreign policy matters to our everyday lives," Kerry said.
After a stop in Saudi Arabia, Kerry will end his trip in Qatar on March 6.
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