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Kerry begins Europe, Mideast tour today

WASHINGTON: America’s top diplomat John Kerry will begin his first official trip as secretary of state today, a marathon get-acquainted tour of America’s closest allies in Europe and the Middle East.
Kerry will visit the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar from Feb. 24 to March 6.
His first stop will be London, where Kerry will meet with senior British officials, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Friday.
Kerry travels on to Berlin where, in addition to meeting Germans, he will encounter his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, for a tricky exchange at a time when Moscow and Washington are at loggerheads on many issues.
“Obviously, they know each other well from when Secretary Kerry was Senator Kerry, but it will be their first opportunity to sit down bilaterally as foreign ministers,” Nuland said.
Nuland added, “I would expect they’ll talk about all of the issues — bilateral, regional, global — but with a particular emphasis, I would expect, on Syria, Iran, DPRK (North Korea) and the bilateral issues of the day.”
The marathon trip underscores Washington’s new foreign policy imperative, which is subtly pivoting away from Asia and increasingly towards Europe.
Tyson Barker of the Bertelsmann Foundation thinktank said that, after a first term focused on relations with Pacific countries, President Barack Obama hopes “to consolidate and retro-fit some of our legacy relationships.”
He added that Obama has in Kerry someone who is “comfortable engaging with Europe, and someone with whom Europe is comfortable engaging.”
Kerry is a figure of standing in Washington. He served for decades as a US senator, including a stint as the chairman of the chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee.