John Kerry kicks off visit to Europe, Middle East

Updated: 2013-02-25 02:42


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WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday kicked off his 11-day maiden voyage to nine countries in Europe and the Middle East, with focus on the conflicts in Mali, Syria and Afghanistan.

The top American envoy, who took office on February 1 to succeed Hillary Clinton, left for the trip early in the morning, which will take him to Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

The conflicts in Mali, Syria and Afghanistan will top Kerry's agenda, the State Department said.

In London, his first stop, Kerry will meet with senior British officials to discuss a range of bilateral and global issues the two NATO allies are closely coordinating, the department said.

In Berlin, he will discuss issues of mutual interest and make a number of public appearances, including an exchange of views with German young people on the state of European-American relations.

The Obama administration was criticized for taking America's relations with Europe for granted during its first term. Some analysts say Europe still matters to the US as many of its closest allies are on the continent, and Kerry's trip offers him an opportunity to improve relations with America's European partners.

In addition, Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday in the German capital over "a wide range" of bilateral and international issues, with focus expected on Syria.

While in Paris, Kerry will discuss with senior French officials the ongoing military intervention in Mali spearheaded by the French military.

During his stay in Rome, the secretary will participate in a number of bilateral and multilateral meetings with America's European allies to review the "wider transatlantic relationship" and discuss issues of global concern.

Besides, Kerry will participate in multilateral meetings on Syria and meet with the leadership of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

In Turkey's capital of Ankara, the secretary will discuss the " strategic priorities" between the two NATO allies, including the crisis in Syria, regional stability, peace and security as well as counterterrorism cooperation.

In Cairo, he will meet with senior government officials, political leaders, civil society leaders and the business community to encourage "greater political consensus" and moving forward on economic reforms.

In addition, he will meet with Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby to consult "on our many shared challenges across the region," the State Department said.

In Riyadh, the secretary will meet with the Saudi leadership and discuss bilateral cooperation on "a broad range of shared concerns." He will also participate in a ministerial meeting with counterparts from the Gulf Cooperation Council nations.

His visit to Abu Dhabi will focus on "continued close coordination" between the two countries on issues of mutual interest.

Syria, Afghanistan and the Middle East peace will top Kerry's agenda in his final stop in Doha, Qatar, the State Department said.

Kerry is scheduled to accompany President Barack Obama in his March trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, and the secretary has stated his willingness to help restart the moribund peace process.

In his Wednesday speech in University of Virginia, Kerry said he will travel across Asia, Africa and the Americas in the coming months.