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John Kerry as Secretary of State: An assessment

As Secretary of State, John Kerry as been much more effective than Hillary Clinton who traveled widely and was most praised for her meeting world leaders and enhancing the status of women around the world. On substantive issues, she accomplished almost nothing. For example, on the Palestinian issue she simply gave up even before she started.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement on Syria at the State Department January 16, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

John Kerry has taken up head on some difficult international issues. On the Palestinian issue, he has made extensive efforts but has been incapable of achieving any progress because of the inherent intractability of the problem. Also, it is no help when the Israeli Defense Minister essentially insults him and tells him "to leave us in peace."

On Iran, Kerry perhaps has achieved his greatest success. The recent interim agreement with Iran on its nuclear program is the first successful deal between the U.S. and Iran after 34 years of acrimony. Of course, the negotiations were not just between the U.S. and Iran. The deal is actually between Iran and the P5+1 group which consists of the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.

However, in a recent interview with Al-Arabiya, Kerry threatened Iran with military action as has been the practice by a string of U.S. officials for years. Kerry said "the US military is poised to attack Iran at any moment if they try to continue enrichment of uranium beyond permitted levels." In response, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called Kerry's remarks as "undiplomatic" and against the UN Charter which forbids attacks or threats against a member country except in self defense or when the UN Security Council has approved it.

Kerry efforts on Syria have achieved mixed results. Both President Obama and Mr. Kerry seem to have been less than truthful when they blamed the Assad government for a set of chemical attacks last August that killed a number of innocent people. A recent MIT report demonstrates that these chemical attacks could not have been instigated by the government and thus likely were the result of action by the rebels themselves. Nevertheless, the agreement to remove and destroy the Syrian chemical weapons was a major success.

More recently, the comments by Kerry in the attached video claiming that President Assad cannot be part of a "transitional" government have been called into question by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, among others, who has called it illogical. In particular, it is not the business of the United States to decide who should be the president of Syria.

Secondly, Kerry argued that Iran should not attend the Geneva II meeting since everyone who attends must agree that there will be a transition government that excludes President Assad. Since the Syrian government was the principal party to the Geneva meeting and it certainly did not agree with his premise, his comments were indeed illogical.

It remains to be seen what will come out of the meetings on Syria since the critical issue of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey support for the radical rebels in Syria is not being discussed. On Iran also we have to wait to see if a permanent agreement will emerge over the next six months or so. On the Palestinian issue again there is little optimism for progress. In the meantime, numerous problems remain Africa and the territorial dispute between China on the one hand and Japan, South Korea and other east Asian countries is a potential power keg.

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