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Diplomacy

John Kerry embarks on first official overseas trip

The new person at the helm of US foreign policy has set off on his first official overseas trip to Europe and the Middle East. He will visit nine nations before returning to Washington.

Secretary of State John Kerry, the man US President Barack Obama has put in charge of American foreign policy, will meet leaders overseas for the first time in his new official capacity.

The long-standing member of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee needs little introduction into the world of diplomacy and is expected to receive a warm welcome in Europe.

Tyson Barker of the Bertelsmann Foundation think tank told the AFP news agency that Kerry is someone who is "comfortable engaging with Europe, and someone with whom Europe is comfortable engaging."

On the agenda

Kerry's mission will be to bring new ideas to the leaders of Europe and the Middle East on how to end the two-year Syrian crisis. He has said he is keen to discuss ways of convincing President Bashar Assad to step down and allow for a democratic transition in Syria.

Other topics for the discussions will include the conflicts in Mali and Afghanistan, as well as Iran's nuclear program.

Kerry's trip began on Sunday, and his fist stop is London. From there he will move on to Germany, France and Italy, followed by Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

In London, he is expected to cover a variety of issues with British officials, including Afghanistan and the Falkland Islands dispute. While in Germany, Kerry plans to discuss trans-Atlantic issues with German youth in Berlin, where he spent time as a student himself as the son of a American diplomat stationed there. In France, Kerry will focus on President Francois Hollande's intervention in Mali.

The final legs of the tour in Europe will take Kerry to Rome to meet with Syrian opposition leaders and then to Turkey.

No major shifts

No major shifts in US foreign policy on Syria are expected as a result of the trip. Officials have said instead that Kerry's first official trip will be primarily a "listening tour."

Thus far, Obama has limited support to non-lethal aid for the opposition who, despite being armed with weapons by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are still poorly armed compared to the Syrian army. There has been talk of a possible rethink of Obama's policy for Syria, but no major announcements are expected.

After Rome, Kerry will head to Turkey and then conclude his voyage in the Middle East.

tm/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)