US Secretary of State John Kerry on first official trip

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivering his first foreign policy speech, University of Virginia (20 Feb) Before his appointment as secretary of state, Mr Kerry served as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for nearly 30 years

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John Kerry has set off for his first foreign trip as US secretary of state, with the Syrian conflict high on his agenda in Europe and the Middle East.

Mr Kerry is expected in London on Sunday. He will visit nine countries, including France, Turkey and Egypt.

In Berlin, he will meet Syrian opposition members and representatives of nations supporting them.

Mr Kerry has said he plans to use the trip to propose ideas on persuading the Syrian president to step aside.

While in Berlin, he will also meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, at a time when relations between the US and Russia are cool.

Familiar field

The US has sought Russia's backing to convince the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he is isolated internationally.

Analysis

The secretary of state embarked on his first foreign trip in his new role bright and early on Sunday, with the state department press corps in tow.

With the mood on the plane being almost like the first day of school - new faces, new guy in charge - we flew across the Atlantic Ocean towards our first stop in London.

Mr Kerry made a few appearances in the packed press section. Towering over us, the 6'4" (1.93m) secretary shared some laughs and seemed at ease as he chit-chatted with some of the people who will be his shadow for the next few years.

While he is not likely to travel as much as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr Kerry has an intense itinerary ahead of him this week - nine cities spanning Europe and the Middle East in 11 days.

The former Massachusetts senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate is no stranger to foreign affairs, having spent almost three decades in the US senate as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr Kerry's schedule includes meetings foreign ministers and leaders in European capitals including Paris, Rome and Ankara before a tour of the Middle Eastern cities including Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.

Though the Middle East peace process will be on the agenda when he visits Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Mr Kerry will not visit Israel or the Palestinian Territories.

President Barack Obama is expected to make the first trip of his presidency to Israel next month.

Iran's controversial nuclear programme, which the country insists is for peaceful purposes, will also be on the new secretary of state's agenda.

On Tuesday, US officials along with counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia will meet Iranian officials in Kazakhstan to attempt to persuade Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions.

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