WASHINGTON, March 6 (Xinhua) -- John Kerry's recent announcement
of direct aid to Syria's rebels and extra assistance to their
political wing seemed to signal policy retooling.
However, to those hoping to discern signs of immediate foreign
policy shifts in the second Obama administration, there were few
clues offered by the U.S. secretary of secretary who was returning
from his first foreign trip that spanned nine nations in Europe and
the Middle East.
THE SYRIA FOCUS
In Rome, the top American diplomat told a meeting of the Friends
of Syria that Washington would for the first time offer direct aid,
in the form of food rations and medical kits, to the Syrian rebels
fighting government forces.
On top of that, Kerry announced 60 million U.S. dollars more in
non-lethal aid, in addition to more than 50 million dollars already
offered, to the political wing of the Syrian opposition to help
provide basic services like security, education and sanitation in
areas under its control.
However, mindful of the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan that
fanned American public's averseness toward overseas military
involvement, Kerry indicated during the trip that the Obama
administration remains committed to a peaceful and negotiated
solution to the Syrian conflict for now.
The stance of no direct military involvement was lauded by
analysts at home, such as James Phillips with Washington think tank
Heritage Foundation. But he also suggested the administration could
do "much more" to boost military capabilities of the Syrian
Kerry said Tuesday in Doha, Qatar, his final stop of the trip,
that Washington supports efforts by the Middle Eastern nations to
send arms to the opposition in Syria.
Earlier in Rome, he stressed that Washington's efforts should
not be judged in isolation but in the context of what other nations
The latest moves by the U.S. and its allies drew immediate
criticism from the Syrian government, Russia and Iran on the
grounds that they will encourage more violence in the ongoing
conflicts, in which some 70,000 people have been killed.
On other hot-button issues such as Mali, Iran and the Mideast
peace talks, Kerry mostly repeated familiar refrains or offered no
fresh ideas as he himself had characterized his maiden overseas
trip as "a listening tour."
The secretary kicked off his trip on Feb. 24, two days before
Iran resumed talks with the so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China,
France, Russia, the United States and Germany over its
controversial nuclear program in Kazakh city of Almaty.
In London, his first stop, Kerry urged Iran to talk with the
world powers "in good faith," saying there is still time for a
diplomatic solution to the standoff.
In Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh on Monday, the official
repeated that there is "finite" time for talks between Iran and the
As to Mali, where Washington is providing logistic support to
French and some African troops in their efforts to flush out the
extremists from the northern part of the country, Kerry did not
dwell on much, at least in public.
Despite his repeated commitments to restarting direct talks
between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the secretary made no
new suggestions all the way.
Kerry is scheduled to accompany Obama in his visit to Israel,
the West Bank and Jordan later this month, with issues like Syria,
Iran and the Middle East peace process expected on the top
But he told German students on Feb. 26 that the president would
not bring a peace plan to Israel and the Palestinian
"We're not going to go and sort of plunk a plan down and tell
everybody what they have to do," Kerry said. "I want to consult and
the president wants to listen."
Kerry's first trip overseas after taking office on Feb. 1
offered few clues to policy shifts, but his selection of Europe and
the Middle East as the first destinations has highlighted his
Analysts from the Heritage Foundation said Obama's European
policy failed in his first four-year term, as his administration
attached little importance to the transatlantic alliance.
"Europe should still matter to the U.S.," they wrote lately.
"Many of America's closest allies are in Europe. The transatlantic
relationship has vitally important defense, intelligence and
The White House had intended Kerry to follow the steps of
Hillary Clinton, his predecessor, by going to Asia first.
But Kerry, seen as a keen supporter of strong transatlantic
ties, chose to land in Europe first and the Middle East next, areas
to which he devoted special attention during his some 30 years on
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I think it's a real reflection on the degree to which we
coordinate our global cooperation with these key partners," said a
senior State Department official accompanying the secretary on his
While publicly supporting Obama's policy of pivoting to Asia,
Kerry is privately "less enthusiastic" about the pivot than
Clinton, said an article on the Politico website.
"At the start, he seems more interested in the here and now,
hoping to intercede directly on contemporary crises in Syria and
Iran, and helping to broker a new trade pact with Europe, one of
the few big-ticket foreign policy items Obama referenced during his
State of the Union earlier this month," the article said.
In his interaction with German students in Berlin, Kerry
stressed that Washington is "paying attention" to Asia in its pivot
to Asia, just as Europe is doing, and not "at the expense of
The Atlantic monthly praised Obama and Kerry for visiting the
Middle East early in the president's second term, saying "U.S.
interests are at significant risk as the region continues to
undergo profound changes and instability, and Arab and European
allies are asking for greater U.S. engagement and leadership."
Kerry, 69, views his job as the apex of his political career and
aspires to "a more central policymaking role" in the Obama
administration than Clinton, the Politico article said.
That depends largely on Obama, however, as the president is the
primary foreign-policy maker.
"I certainly will weigh in with my ideas and my views," Kerry
replied in Doha on Tuesday when asked about his approach to foreign
policy by ABC's Martha Raddatz.
"But it's up to the president to make those choices," he said.