Kerry Visit Underscores Uzbekistan’s Pivotal Role

American secretary of state John Kerry answers questions from reporters in London, England, January 22
American secretary of state John Kerry answers questions from reporters in London, England, January 22 (State Department)

American secretary of state John Kerry met with Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, on Sunday. The rare high-level encounter with the septuagenarian autocrat underscores the strategic importance the United States attaches to his nation. Read more “Kerry Visit Underscores Uzbekistan’s Pivotal Role”

Will America Talk with Syria’s Assad or Not?

American secretary of state John Kerry answers questions from reporters in Montreux, Switzerland, March 4
American secretary of state John Kerry answers questions from reporters in Montreux, Switzerland, March 4 (State Department)

Four years into Syria’s civil war, the United States may have come round to the view that President Bashar al-Assad needs to be part of a political solution.

Despite earlier insisting that Assad “must go,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Sunday, when asked if the United States would be willing to speak with Assad, “We have to negotiate in the end.”

The State Department rushed to clarify that Kerry did not mean direct negotiations with Assad.

“By necessity, there has always been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of this process,” a spokeswoman said. “It has never been and would not be Assad who would negotiate. And the secretary was not saying that today.”

Maybe not. But it seems rather hardheaded to continue to exclude the Syrian dictator from any effort to mediate an end to the conflict in his country.

The United States believe Assad “lost legitimacy” when he started killing his own people but not all Syrians agree. Many minority Alawites and Christians have stuck with him for fear of a radical Sunni takeover. By Assad’s design, the peaceful protests that started in 2011 morphed into a fanatic, sectarian uprising that is dominated by violent Islamists — primarily the Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front and the self-declared Islamic State. Both groups have been targets of American airstrikes in Iraq as well as Syria.

Nor do all powers agree that Assad should step down. Iran is his ally. To an extent, so is Russia. China still considers Assad to be Syria’s legitimate leader.

China and Russia have used their vetoes in the United Nations Security Council to forestall any international military intervention in Syria. If world powers are to find the much-desired political solution to the Syrian crisis, the views of China and Russia cannot be ignored.

Americans’ outrage is not without cause. Assad’s henchmen have indiscriminately and purposefully targeted civilian areas, using crude and deadly barrel bombs as well as chemical weapons, withheld food and medical aid from Syrians in need, executed rebel sympathizers and systematically raped, tortured and killed detainees. But Assad is also a major party to the conflict.

Unless the United States are willing to impose a “political solution” on Syria on their own — meaning, intervene in the conflict with force — it is difficult to see how Assad can be altogether sidelined.

Kerry Assures Arabs Iran Deal Is No Grand Bargain

American secretary of state John Kerry answers questions from reporters in London, England, January 22
American secretary of state John Kerry answers questions from reporters in London, England, January 22 (State Department)

Secretary of State John Kerry has sought to reassure America’s Arab allies that a nuclear deal with Iran will not involve a “grand bargain” with the Shia state for power in the Middle East.

Earlier this month, Kerry told Saudi officials in Riyadh that the United States will not take their “eye off of Iran’s other destabilizing actions in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula” in case world powers reach an agreement with Iran about its nuclear program.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful but Arab and Western powers suspect it intends to build weapons. The United States is leading a diplomatic effort to secure a long-term agreement with Iran under which international sanctions on its oil-based economy would be lifted in exchange for assurances that it won’t build atomic bombs.

Saudi Arabia worries that the deal will be harbinger for better relations between its most important Western ally and Iran, its regional foe. Read more “Kerry Assures Arabs Iran Deal Is No Grand Bargain”

Israel Was Right to Reject American Ceasefire Proposal

When Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for a ceasefire between Gaza militants and Israel reached the latter’s cabinet on Friday, it reportedly united liberals and nationalists in incredulity.

Little wonder. The proposal, if reported accurately, addressed only the concerns of Hamas, the Islamist terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip. An unidentified government source told Israel’s Channel 2 television that Kerry had “dug a tunnel under the Egyptian ceasefire proposal” — which Israel accepted and Hamas rejected last week — and accused the American diplomat of “completely capitulating” to Hamas. Read more “Israel Was Right to Reject American Ceasefire Proposal”

Kerry Said to Express Doubts About Syria Strategy

President Barack Obama talks with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, November 22, 2013
President Barack Obama talks with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, November 22, 2013 (White House/Pete Souza)

For the past two and a half years, the Obama Administration has projected an aura of confidence to the public about its policy on Syria. Despite clamors from some members of Congress for more active military engagement in the conflict, officials have resisted the temptation to intervene on a mass scale, with a certain private assurance that the policy they have been following is the most responsible course of action the United States can take.

That confidence seemed to pay off when Bashar al-Assad agreed to dismantle and destroy his chemical weapons stockpile in order to avert the use of military force — an event that President Barack Obama brought up himself during his State of the Union address this week as an example of his administration’s foreign policy achievements.

But it appears much of that confidence is now being tossed aside by some of the Obama Administration’s most senior members. According to reporters Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg, Josh Rogan of the The Daily Beast and Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post, Secretary of State John Kerry is one of the officials beginning to doubt whether America’s policy in Syria is doing anything to push the Assad regime out of power.

In a private meeting with congressmen that was supposed to be kept confidential and off the record, America’s top diplomat apparently expressed doubt that the administration’s approach to the Syrian conflict is working. Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the most outspoken critics of Obama’s Syria policy, provided glimpses of Kerry’s reservations to the three reporters. Assuming that McCain and Graham are telling the truth, their remarks lead to one conclusion: John Kerry is doubting the very policy that he is tasked with carrying out.

Among Kerry’s chief concerns, according to the senators, is the steady growth and power of Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria as well as their aspirations to eventually use the country as a base of operations for attacks against the United States. “He openly talked about forming a coalition against Al Qaeda because it’s a direct threat,” Graham told The Daily Beast. “The first thing [Kerry] said is, ‘The Al Qaeda threat is real. It is getting out of hand.'”

Al Qaeda was not the only thing on Kerry’s mind. Senator Graham also told reporters that the secretary touched on every major issue that has been a focus of America’s policy in Syria, from the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons to the fact that peace talks in Switzerland have done nothing to slow down the war.

“He acknowledged that the chemical weapons [delivery] is being slow rolled; the Russians continue to supply arms [and that] we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy,” Graham remarked.

The State Department denies that Kerry made any suggestion about changing strategy in Syria. That statement, however, may not make much of a difference in Washington DC where there has always been speculation that the secretary is not entirely on board with the president’s more restrained and cautious direction in the war. And, as often occurs in the capital, whether or not reports of Kerry’s doubts are accurate is less important than the fact that the reports are out there.

For lawmakers like McCain and Graham, who have argued for increased lethal support to the moderate Syrian opposition, airstrikes on strategic Syrian military facilities, the formation of no-fly zones and the establishment of humanitarian corridors, these accounts will serve as a useful piece of leverage to drive American policy in a more activist direction.

Kerry Faces Skeptical House Panel on Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of State John Kerry experienced just how difficult it will be for the Obama Administration to get members of Congress on board with the interim nuclear agreement that was signed with Iran last month. Testifying before the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Kerry was hammered for nearly three hours by Democrats and Republicans alike about the incomplete nature of the deal that was negotiated in Geneva, the $7 billion in sanctions relief that Iran is due to receive over the next six months and whether any final agreement would allow the Islamic republic to preserve a low level uranium enrichment capability.

Republican Ed Royce, the chairman of the committee, criticized what he saw as the administration’s soft negotiating strategy toward Iran, calling the agreement a much needed opportunity for the Iranians to receive billions of dollars without dismantling a single centrifuge.

“My concern,” the California congressman said, “is that we have bargained away our fundamental position in exchange for a false confidence that we can effectively check Iran’s misuse of these key nuclear bombmaking technologies.” Read more “Kerry Faces Skeptical House Panel on Iran Nuclear Deal”

Kerry Criticizes Political “Mythology,” Then Rewrites History

Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that “mythology and politics” should not be allowed to “cloud reality” when he was asked about President Barack Obama’s supposed reluctance to use force. Yet he went on to do just that.

Kerry argued that the president had “made his decision” to intervene militarily in Syria after the regime of Bashar Assad there had allegedly deployed poison gas against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus in late August. Kerry, rather than the president, was the administration’s most vocal advocate of military action, describing the gas attack at the time as a “moral obscenity” that had crossed a “global red line” — referring to Obama’s own “red line” laid out more than a year earlier when he had warned that the use of chemical weapons could trigger American intervention.

But, said Kerry, the president “also made the decision to respect the requests of many members of Congress to come to them. And guess what?” When he did, it were members of Congress, in particular opposition Republicans, who balked at taking action. Read more “Kerry Criticizes Political “Mythology,” Then Rewrites History”

Kerry Denies Western Split in Iran Nuclear Talks

Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal Al Saud shakes hands with his American counterpart, John Kerry, at the State Department in Washington DC, April 16
Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal Al Saud shakes hands with his American counterpart, John Kerry, at the State Department in Washington DC, April 16 (State Department)

America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, denied that a split had emerged between Western powers during nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva, Switzerland this week, insisting “there was unity there with respect to getting it right.”

In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that was broadcast on Sunday, President Barack Obama’s top diplomat claimed that all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, the six parties negotiating with Iran, “wanted to make sure that we had tough language necessary, the clarity in the language necessary, to be absolutely certain that we were doing the job and not granting more or doing something sloppily.” Read more “Kerry Denies Western Split in Iran Nuclear Talks”

Kerry Tries to Rescue Stalled Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, January 20, 2012 (DoD/D. Myles Cullen)

America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, has a lot on his plate, from the upcoming round of nuclear negotiations with Iran to the global effort in Syria to verify and destroy Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons. Yet on Wednesday, he added another item to his “to do” list — spending a full day traveling between Israel and the West Bank to resurrect a peace process that both parties believe is on the brink of collapsing.

After six months of persistent contact with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry achieved a breakthrough in the conflict that had eluded American officials the previous three years. That is, Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed to relaunch direct negotiations within a strict nine month timeframe. Given the enormous mistrust between Israel and the Palestinians over the core issues of the conflict, getting both men back to the negotiating table was a major obstacle. But by with sheer force of his personality, Kerry at least broke through that roadblock. Read more “Kerry Tries to Rescue Stalled Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks”

Kerry’s Surprise Visit to Afghanistan Yields Draft Agreement

Negotiations over an agreement for some American forces to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 have been stalled for some time but an unannounced visit to Kabul by Secretary of State John Kerry seems to have yielded some progress — and a draft agreement.

Among the major differences holding up the negotiations for a Bilateral Security Agreement are longstanding Afghan demands for greater control and better access to American intelligence as well as the stipulation that remaining forces not be subject to Afghan law. Additionally, Afghan are concerned that the agreement lacks a security guarantee to protect the country from Pakistan while permitting the United States to conduct unilateral operations in Afghanistan. Read more “Kerry’s Surprise Visit to Afghanistan Yields Draft Agreement”