John Kerry on Mission in the Middle East

The senator visits Turkey and Syria as an informal envoy to President Obama’s.

Democratic senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, July 13
Democratic senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, July 13 (Center for American Progress Action Fund)

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, former Democratic presidential candidate, has emerged as something of an unofficial envoy of the Obama Administration’s in recent months. In his capacity as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has visited the Middle East several times, notably Syria where the United States have no ambassador.

The senator has been touring the region once again this week, visiting Turkey where he spoke with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey previously negotiated a nuclear fuel exchange agreement with Iran in conjunction with Brazil and is expected to host international talks between Iran and the West on its alleged nuclear weapons program soon.

Relations between Turkey and the United States have been strained a bit in recent months as a result of the former’s more eastward foreign policy outlook. Turkey’s condemnation of Israel’s interception of a small fleet of blockade runners in May in particular has been cause for concern in Washington. At the G20 summit in Toronto, Canada this summer President Obama is supposed to have told Erdoğan that the Turks had failed to act as an ally in voting against new Iran sanctions in the United Nations Security Council. Obama shouldn’t worry too much about Turkey’s rhetoric however. As the country rises as a regional power broker it is only inevitable that Turkey voice disapproval of American and Western policy occasionally.

Kerry went on to travel to Lebanon and Syria, to convey the United States’ lasting commitment to Lebanon’s sovereignty. “A united Lebanon that is stable and moving forward, both on security issues and economic issues, is good for the Lebanese people,” he said on Monday. He promised his Lebanese audience that no agreement brokered with Syria will ever come at their expense.

The senator will also visit Israel, presumably to convoy the administration’s frustration with its decision to build 1,300 new homes in contested neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. In Indonesia on Tuesday, President Obama criticized the decision publicly, noting, “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations.” His administration has been trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate since September but the expiration of a moratorium on settlement construction has prompted the Palestinians to walk out on the peace talks.

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