John Kerry is Secretary of State; eyes Mideast Peace; stable ties with Pakistan

By Ali Imran  

Congressional portrait with U.S. flag in the b...

Congressional portrait with U.S. flag in the background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, Feb 3 : John Kerry has assumed the position of top US diplomat, as the Obama White House cobbles together a new national security team.

Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate and longtime chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has replaced Hillary Clinton, who spearheaded US foreign policy for four years.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate foreign relations panel, Kerry argued strongly in favor of building long-term relations with Pakistan, appreciating Islamabad’s counterterrorism efforts and citing its pivotal importance to a successful end to the Afghan conflict.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman has congratulated Kerry.

“We all look forward to working with him and his team at a time of challenging transitions for the region,” she said.

The Pakistan-US relationship, she noted, has also recently taken an important turn for a more stable trajectory, and “we hope to build on more positives together.”

 “We are now engaged in a full spectrum of bilateral dialogue groups at the strategic and working levels across many ministries” Ambassador Rehman said.

As head of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry also co-authored a legislative measure to provide $ 7.5 billion assistance to Pakistan over five years.

At the confirmation hearing, the five-term senator rejected the notion of a sledgehammer approach to US relations with Pakistan, dismissing a lawmaker’s suggestion on conditioning or cutting assistance for the South Asian country as “dramatic and draconian.”  

 He also played the vital role of a troubleshooter for President Barack Obama in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last four years, brokering the release of Raymond Davis in 2011, after the CIA Contractor had killed two Pakistanis in Lahore.

The new secretary of state John Kerry and former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, if approved as Defense Secretary, will lead the State Department and Pentagon respectively at an important time for the South Asian region when the US seeks to complete a smooth drawdown of its forces from Afghanistan by 2014.

Another key post in the Obama’s national security team transition is that of the CIA Director. Obama has named his counterterrorism advisor John Brennan for the position following sudden departure of retired general David Petraeus in an extramarital affair. Brennan is considered architect of Obama’s counterterrorism policy including the administration’s reliance on use of drones against militant targets on foreign soils including Pakistan.

The US covert drone operations in Pakistani tribal areas are a sensitive subject in the bilateral relations since Islamabad says they are counterproductive and give extremist elements an issue to play around. American officials do not speak publicly on the controversial drone program.

Meanwhile, in an indication of the Obama Administration’s renewed focus on the Middle East, the new US  Secretary of State John Kerry is likely to visit the region as part of his first official overseas trip.

Kerry’s visit would demonstrate an urgency for reviving stalled Middle East peace talks and addressing political chaos in Egypt, an American channel reported.

According to the CNN,  the full itinerary of Kerry’s initial travel schedule was not clear, but a U.S official said the trip would likely include stops in Israel and Egypt.

Kerry has reportedly already been invited by some European capitals to visit later this month.

Some of the pressing issues facing Kerry as he begins his tenure as the 68th secretary of state include the situation in Afghanistan, the civil war in Syria and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The lingering Middle East question – in the backdrop of Israeli-Palestinian recent tensions and unrest in several countries in the region – is expected to occupy good part of Kerry’s time.

According to the CNN, Kerry insiders say he would want to play a big role shaping policy in the region and try to help solve some of the difficult issues, including delving heavily into the peace process.

 During his Senate confirmation hearing that he believes there is a “way forward” on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

 “The window or door on a two-state solution could shut – and that would be disastrous for all concerned,” he said. “Perhaps this can be a moment where we can renew some kind of effort to get the parties into a discussion to have a different track than we have been on over the last couple of years.”


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