Kerry's trip includes Mideast hot spots
WASHINGTON - Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, left last night for a trip to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Syria.
In Jordan, Kerry plans to attend a conference on terrorism, radical Islam and encouraging moderate and peaceful expressions of Muslim faith. In Lebanon, Kerry will meet with Lebanese officials and discuss Hezbollah, a militant organization that has significant clout in the government.
In Israel, Kerry will discuss ways to restart the peace process and rebuild Gaza after the recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that killed 1,300 Palestinians. Kerry is to meet with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Kadima party, and hard-line rival Benjamin Netanyahu, who both claimed victory Tuesday in parliamentary elections.
Kerry said that he would be briefed on progress toward a March 2 international aid conference aimed at finding a way to rebuild Gaza without allowing Hamas to get the credit for it.
"It is important that Hamas not be empowered to claim that they are rebuilders," Kerry said. "On the other hand, you want to depoliticize it so that it works."
In Syria, a country that the Bush administration shunned, Kerry is scheduled to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"I will be having some frank discussions about where our relations are and where they ought to be," Kerry said, adding that he will press the Obama administration to send a US ambassador.
The United States has not had an ambassador in Syria since 2005, when Margaret Scobey was recalled after the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafiq Al-Hariri. Syrian officials are widely believed to have been behind the string of assassinations in neighboring Lebanon. But Kerry said reappointing a US ambassador to Syria would not be "a punishment or a reward."
"It helps you communicate so that you are not guessing," he said. "It seems to me that it is very self-defeating not to do it."