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'Listening tour': John Kerry on first foreign trip as US secretary of state

Published time: February 24, 2013 10:49
Edited time: February 25, 2013 20:46

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (Reuters/Jason Reed)

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John Kerry has begun his first official foreign trip in Britain, very much a real country, unlike the nation of Kyrzakhstan - an invented nation - he talked about before setting off.

John Kerry made his first gaffe as US secretary of state by inventing the nation of ‘Kyrzakhstan’. Kerry praised US diplomats working to secure “democratic institutions” in the make believe Central Asian country.

Kerry was referring to Kyrgyzstan, a poor nation of 5.5 million inhabitants, which he appeared to confuse with its resource-rich, larger neighbor to the north Kazakhstan.

Kerry a seasoned diplomat will visit Europe and the Middle East on the 10-day tour, and focus on the ongoing conflict in Syria.

In a press conference in London Kerry said he was confident that progress could be made on Syria in talks scheduled to take place in Rome later this week.

"I want our friends in the Syrian opposition council to know we are not coming to Rome simply to talk. We're coming to Rome to make the decision about next steps and perhaps even other options that may or not be discussed further after that,” said Kerry.

Starting off with London, Kerry will then visit Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Bringing peace to the troubled nation of Syria is expected to dominate his foreign talks.

It is going to be an introductory tour for the 69-year-old, who spent the last 28 years in the US Senate, all of them as a member of its Foreign Relations Committee and the last four as its chairman. Presumably, he will know most of the foreign diplomats he will have to work with personally.

The German capital takes a special place in secretary of state's itinerary. Kerry spent his childhood in Berlin as the son of an American diplomat before he was sent to a Swiss boarding school at the age of 11. There he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whom he has long known as a diplomat, but has not worked with as a counterpart.

Russia and the US have dramatically different takes on Syria. Kerry has been explicitly vocal about Assad's need to step down from the post of Syrian president. Russia has always stuck to the view that only the Syrian people have the final say and democracy cannot be imposed from outside.

Kerry and Lavrov have already talked on the phone twice since Kerry was appointed secretary of state on February 1. The opposite numbers have agreed to 'use their influence' on the sides involved in finding solution to the Syrian crisis.

The death of an adopted Russian boy in Texas is also expected to take a considerable amount of discussion time between Lavrov and Kerry, the Russian Foreign Ministry says.

In France, Kerry will talk France's ongoing military operation in Mali. In Rome, he will meet with Syrian opposition leaders.

US officials claim the trip will be primarily a 'listening tour', with no immediate shifts in American foreign policy.

Despite numerous Middle East stops, Kerry will not travel to Israel or the Palestinian territories, instead waiting to go there with Barack Obama later in March.

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