Political Notebook

John Kerry to meet with Syrian fighters

John Kerry will meet with leaders of the Syrian opposition in hopes of identifying a potential diplomatic means to defuse the crisis.
John Kerry will meet with leaders of the Syrian opposition in hopes of identifying a potential diplomatic means to defuse the crisis.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John F. Kerry will depart Sunday on a nine-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East, where he plans to meet with members of the Syrian opposition and huddle with foreign leaders on a series of other thorny issues from the civil war in Mali to continued instability in Egypt.

The maiden overseas voyage for the new secretary of state, from Feb. 24 to March 6, will offer Kerry the opportunity to reacquaint himself with foreign leaders, including some of the closest US allies.

It will take him to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, the State Department said Tuesday.


A key issue on the agenda will be the ongoing civil war in Syria, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad since 2011.

Get Ground Game in your inbox:
Daily updates and analysis on national politics from James Pindell.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

When he is in Rome, Kerry will meet with leaders of the Syrian opposition in hopes of identifying a potential diplomatic means to defuse the crisis.

“Secretary Kerry will participate in multilateral meetings on Syria, and with the leadership of the Syrian Opposition Coalition,” according to the State Department.

The announcement came as the US Agency for International Development said in Geneva the United States will provide an additional $19 million, on top of the $385 million already set aside, to help ease the country’s humanitarian crisis.

The new funding, some of which will be administered by the International Red Cross, “will provide additional medical supplies and emergency medical care for those in need in Syria,” the State Department said in a statement.


The money will also provide food vouchers for 50,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Kerry will also stop in Egypt, where he will meet with political leaders, members of civil society, and the business community “to encourage greater political consensus and moving forward on economic reforms,” according to the statement.

During the stop he will also meet with the secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil Al-Araby.

While in Saudi Arabia, Kerry will meet with counterparts from the Gulf Cooperation Council nations.

The trip will conclude in Doha, Qatar, where Kerry will discuss Syria, Afghanistan, and the stalled Middle East peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, the State Department said.



US lawmakers meet Castro, seek release of American

HAVANA — US lawmakers met with President Raul Castro and other senior Cuban officials Tuesday and were told they would be given access to an American imprisoned in Havana. The State Department said the legislators would push for his release.

Cuban state-television showed the delegation, led by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chatting with Castro at the Palace of the Revolution. It said only that the two sides discussed ‘‘issues of mutual interest.’’ American diplomats on the island could not be reached for comment.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the congressional delegation, five senators and two representatives, would meet with jailed American Alan Gross and seek his immediate release.

Gross’s detention has become the chief impediment to improved relations between Washington and Havana. The 63-year-old was arrested in 2009, when he was caught bringing sensitive communications equipment into Cuba during a USAID democracy-building program. He was sentenced to 15 years.

Leahy said Monday that this trip seeks principally to build on understandings made in previous trips and work toward improving relations between countries that have been enemies since before man set foot on the moon.

The delegation includes Senators Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona; Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio; Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan; and Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, along with Democratic Representatives Jim McGovern and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Gross’s home state.

McGovern, who represents a district based in Worcester, has been to Cuba several times.



Axelrod joins network

NEW YORK — David Axelrod, former strategist and aide to President Obama, has landed a new job at NBC News.

The network said Tuesday that Axelrod is joining as a senior political analyst. He will contribute on both NBC News and the cable network MSNBC.

Axelrod helped run Obama’s successful campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and worked as an adviser to the president during his first term.



Hillary Clinton represented for giving paid speeches

NEW YORK — Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton will give paid speeches now that she left government.