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John Kerry plots course for first official trip

Expected to visit Europe, Israel, and possibly Egypt

New Secretary of State John F. Kerry has spent most of his time getting to know his staff and speaking to foreign leaders.

Associated Press

New Secretary of State John F. Kerry has spent most of his time getting to know his staff and speaking to foreign leaders.

WASHINGTON — Far from the staid chambers of the Senate, Secretary of State John F. Kerry has been presented with a full plate of global crises as he plots his maiden voyage abroad: Egypt in chaos, Syria engulfed in civil war, moribund Mideast peace talks, and North Korea threatening to detonate an atomic bomb while Iran moves closer to developing one of its own.

As he seals his transition from legislator to diplomat with his first official trip overseas, Kerry will have to deal with all these unresolved diplomatic crises even as he looks to put his personal stamp on American foreign policy.

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Kerry is hoping in his new role to cement traditional trans-Atlantic ties with US allies and preparing for President Obama’s upcoming visit to the Middle East.

Washington-based diplomats say the former Massachusetts senator and 2004 presidential candidate may embark on his first trip as secretary to Europe and the Middle East in the last week of February.

The exact itinerary has yet to be determined, but Kerry is expected in several European capitals and Israel, the Palestinian territories, and possibly Egypt, according to the diplomats.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. The State Department declined to comment on Kerry’s potential travel plans.

The trip would highlight some of the issues Kerry has been most deeply engaged in over 28 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the last four as chairman: US-European cooperation over such issues as pacifying Afghanistan and fighting climate change, addressing the rising terror threat from North Africa, and finally pressing Israelis and Palestinians into finding some kind of path toward a two-state peace agreement.

With each problem, there is no easy answer — an old adage of diplomacy that Kerry learned well as an unofficial Obama envoy to Pakistan, Syria, and elsewhere, but never before as the point-man for administration policy.

Just hours before Kerry was sworn in to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, militants provided a stark reminder of the inherent danger in American diplomacy as a suicide bomber struck the US Embassy in Turkey. And in the days since, ­Japan alleged that China locked weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese destroyer and helicopter amid an escalating maritime dispute between the Asian powers.

‘‘This is a complicated time in the world,’’ Kerry told a visiting group of college students in marked understatement on his third day at the State Department.

Thus far, he has spent most of his time to getting to know his staff and speaking to foreign leaders, and little time publicly talking geopolitics. He echoed the White House’s call last week for tougher European Union action against Hezbollah and decried Pyongyang’s threat of a third nuclear test.

And at his first official news conference Friday, he warned Iran to seriously approach upcoming nuclear talks with world powers and declared that the Obama administration was exploring new options — primarily diplomatic — to stem the violence in Syria.

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