News Column

Kerry Declines to Spell Out Moves to End Syria Conflict

February 26, 2013
Secretary of State John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry declined to be drawn Tuesday into providing specifics on possible action to end the violence in Syria, ahead of talks with the leadership of the war-torn nation's opposition later this week.

Kerry also held talks in Berlin with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as Moscow and Washington seek to end their differences over Syria in hopes of finding a solution to the two-year-old conflict.

Speaking on the second day of his 11-day trip through Europe and the Middle East, Kerry said his nine-nation tour was "precisely to connect with our friends and allies" on issues such as the Syrian crisis.

Up until now, the Kremlin has blocked efforts in the United Nations to take further action against Syria.

On Thursday, Kerry is to meet with the leadership of the Syrian opposition in Rome at an 11-nation conference called to discuss possible new aid for the war-torn country.

This followed the decision of the Syrian National Coalition to attend the conference after its leadership had initially announced that it was boycotting the talks because of the Western community's failure to end the violence in Syria.

The meeting between Lavrov and Kerry also comes in the wake of tensions between Washington and Moscow on a series of issues, including the Kremlin's ban on US adoptions of Russian children and criticism from Washington about Russia's human rights record.

At the same time, Kerry called on Iran to use ongoing talks with Western nations "to move along the path to a diplomatic solution" to the nation's controversial nuclear programme.

His comments came after negotiations between Iran and six world powers aimed at ending a stand-off over that country's nuclear ambitions were started again in the Kazakh city of Almaty.

Kerry's swing through major European capitals this week is his first trip abroad since taking office this month.

Officials in Washington insisted, however, that he would not be chartering any new territory during his trip, which also focuses on plans to draw down international military involvement in Afghanistan and moves to forge a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement.

Standing alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Kerry said the US believed that the planned trade deal was "a really unique opportunity. ... We think this is something that can lift the economy in Europe and strengthen our own economy."

Speaking earlier in the day at a joint press conference with Kerry, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it was hoped that the negotiations over the free trade agreement would commence before summer.

"We are more closely connected than ever before," Kerry told a meeting with young Germans in Berlin, which he had called to hear their views of US-European relations.

After visiting London on Monday, Kerry is to set to travel to Paris following his talks in Berlin before heading to Rome.

Kerry then flies to the Middle East and North Africa, where the political crisis in Egypt is expected to be a key subject in Kerry's talks with officials.

This will include talks in Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

The first trip by a US foreign secretary is considered by diplomats to be very symbolic, with officials saying Kerry's visit to Europe underscored Washington's belief that it needs its European allies to help face up to the current global challenges.

The visit also represented the first occasion that Washington's key allies get to see how Kerry intends to approach his new job as the US's top diplomat, as well as the foreign policy priorities of President Barack Obama's second term in office.

"I would very much like to continue the good cooperation with the (Obama) administration," Merkel said.

Berlin is also hoping that Kerry's trip might pave the way for a visit to Germany by Obama in the coming months.

Kerry's visit to Berlin also gave him the chance to reconnect with the city where he lived as a child during the 1950s as the son of a US diplomat.

"I would say it is wonderful to be here again in Berlin," Kerry said at his press conference with Westerwelle.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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