Kerrys year of diplomatic dangers

The trouble with setting ambitious deadlines, especially in the unpredictable world of high-stakes foreign diplomacy, is that you run the risk of very public failure.

Last year, top US diplomat John Kerry gave himself and the Obama administration several lofty goals, any of which would have been a ground-breaking achievement.

Here is how they panned out and why, as Kerry prepares this week for his first foreign trip of 2015, his diplomatic in-tray is not getting any smaller.


Within a few months of taking over as US secretary of state in 2013, Kerry had persuaded the Israelis and Palestinians to resume moribund peace talks.

The goal: A comprehensive peace treaty for a two-state solution, which has eluded the two sides for decades, by April 29, 2014.

The reality: In almost a bad April Fool’s Day joke, both Israel and the Palestinians pulled the plug on Kerry’s dogged efforts on April 1, 2014. After weeks of stalemate, Israel announced plans for 700 new settlements, and the Palestinians said they would seek membership of 15 UN agencies.

Today: Peace talks have collapsed, and the 50-day Gaza war killed 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis. Relations between the two sides are at a new low with no prospect of new negotiations.

Status: #epicfail


After then-senator Kerry helped instigate secret talks with Iran in 2012, the new Iranian leadership under President Hassan Rouhani agreed to return to stalemated negotiations.

The goal: A comprehensive treaty preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon in return for an easing of crippling international sanctions by July 20, 2014.

The reality: Despite intense and complex negotiations the deadline had to be extended to November 24. But the so-called P5+1 group of powers leading the talks with Iran failed to make the second date, with the question of Iranian uranium enrichment and the sanctions easing seemingly at the heart of the discord.

Today: There is a new deadline for a deal of July 1, 2015, although Kerry has said he hopes for an outline accord by sometime in March. Talks should resume this month.

Status: #workinprogress


After an August 2013 sarin gas attack reportedly killed as many as 1,400 civilians in a Damascus suburb, the regime avoided a US missile attack by pledging to hand over all its chemical weapons.

The goal: In a deal hammered out between Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Damascus was to transfer a newly declared stock of 1,300 metric tonnes of chemical weapons by June 30, 2014.

The reality: The transfer to UN arms inspectors was completed on July 3, and the chemical agents all destroyed by August 18 on board a US Navy ship. However, the destruction of Syria’s production facilities — including 12 hangers and tunnels — has been hit by delays and is now not expected before June, according to the regime.

Today: Despite the success of destroying its chemical weapons, Syria is mired in a bloody civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people since March 2011. Tentative peace talks collapsed in January, and there is no date for new negotiations.

Status: #mixedresults


The US had hoped to sign a bilateral security deal with outgoing Afghan president Hamid Karzai by December 31, 2013. But amid political upheavals, a disputed election and an about-face by the mercurial Karzai, the deadline slipped.

The goal: For a new Afghan president to be sworn in by an August 2 scheduled inauguration.

The reality: Kerry flew in for an unannounced 48-hour visit in mid-July, pulling off a coup when presidential rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah agreed to recount all eight million votes and to set up a power-sharing government.

Today: Ghani was finally sworn in as president on September 29, with Abdullah in the new role of new chief executive. The security deal to govern the continued presence of US troops was signed the next day.

Status: #Kerrysuccess


Another grueling 12 months await Kerry, who in two years on the job has spent 289 days on the road and flown some 664,074 miles.

Top of his in-tray now — strengthening the coalition fighting Islamic State group militants, who in June captured a swath of Iraq in a lightning offensive, triggering global concern.

Fighting against pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, which erupted last year, has also claimed more than 4,700 lives, and brought the prospect of all-out war to Europe’s doorstep.


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