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Diplomacy

John Kerry arrives in Berlin on second day of tour

John Kerry has landed in Berlin for his first official visit as secretary of state, where he is set to discuss the countries' economic and military ties. He also plans to meet with the Russian foreign secretary.

The new US secretary of state landed in the German capital mid-morning on Tuesday on the second day of his Europe-Middle East tour. Before entering talks with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Chancellor Angela Merkel, Kerry met with German youths to discuss US-German relations.

Kerry began his visit with a few words in German, saying how wonderful it was to be back in Berlin. The secretary of state is no stranger to the city, where he spent part of his youth as the son of an American diplomat stationed in the then divided capital city.

During his first stop off, Kerry emphasized the importance of the "immense possibilities" that could immerge from the ties between the two nations, which "were closer than ever."

Common German-US concerns are to top the agenda during his visit, with topics ranging from the withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, to Iran's nuclear program, to an upcoming transatlantic free trade agreement.

Last week, the US announced its intention of maintaining a military mission of several thousand troops in Afghanistan beyond the planned 2014 withdrawal. Germany's defense minister, Thomas de Maiziere, confirmed that a limited number of Bundeswehr soldiers would also remain behind, though the exact number has not yet been announced.

According to the ISAF website Germany has 4,318 troops stationed in Afghanistan compared to the US' 68,000.

A free trade agreement is also expected to receive much discussion on Tuesday. German officials responded positively to the announcement earlier this month, saying Germany welcomed the closer partnership.

The United States is currently one of Germany's most important trading partners. In 2011, the US was the fourth largest importer of German goods, worth nearly 50 billion euros. Germany, for its part, imported nearly 75 billion euros in US goods, making the North American country its second largest exporter.

Following meetings with the German foreign secretary and chancellor, the US secretary of state is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergey Lavrov.

In recent months, relations between Moscow and Washington have become increasingly tense. In addition to stark disagreements over bringing an end to the conflict in Syria and Iran's nuclear program, Washington has criticized Russia for human rights abuses. The Kremlin, in retaliation, banned US adoptions of Russian children.

The US secretary of state's 9-nation tour began on positive note during his London visit. In coordination with his British counterpart Foreign Secretary William Hague, Kerry was able to convince the head of the Syrian National Coalition - the main opposition group to Syrian President Bashar Assiad - to attend an upcoming Friends of Syria conference in Rome.

After talks in Berlin, Kerry is set to travel to Paris to meet with French President Francois Hollande and then to Rome. The last leg of his tour will take him to Turkey, Egypt, Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

kms/rg (Reuters, dpa)

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