Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Year in Foreign Relations Some Promising Initiatives May Bear Fruit Down the Road

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Year in Foreign Relations Some Promising Initiatives May Bear Fruit Down the Road

Article excerpt

This, the first of three end-of-the-year columns, will assess what I consider to be the most important developments in U.S. foreign affairs in 2013.

The second, to appear on Christmas Day, will be a gift list for different players in the international relations pantomime. The third, for New Year's Day, will have me sacrificing my few remaining shards of credibility by making predictions for 2014.

As prelude, I would say that 2013 saw a very impressive performance from Secretary of State John F. Kerry. Mr. Kerry was different from his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in that he was quick to take the big risks in trying to resolve the really hard questions that U.S. foreign policy confronts.

Without pausing to pass "Go" or collect $200, Mr. Kerry plunged straight into three difficult and controversial problems: the long- stagnant Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the tangled problem of Iran's nuclear ambitions and economic sanctions, and how to engage the international community to stop the suffering in Syria and put the country back together again.

Ms. Clinton had ducked heavyweight involvement in these problems, not wanting to scratch her paint in unsuccessful efforts to resolve them. Each of them has domestic political ramifications as well as myriad international sub-problems. Ms. Clinton still probably wants to run for president again. Mr. Kerry ran for president once, lost, and no doubt has no taste to try again. Secretary of state is clearly the pinnacle of Mr. Kerry's career, and he is ready to be judged by the American people and history on the basis of his achievements in that post.

On the Israeli-Palestinian talks, Mr. Kerry has tried to steer them towards success by paying close attention to both the Israeli side, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian side, where he has concentrated on Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, leaving the inhospitable field of Hamas largely unplowed. This could be a serious omission.

On the Iranian nuclear issue, in an attempt to overcome sour U.S.-Iranian relations since 1979 as both sides carried out hostile operations against the other (unless one wants to cast President Ronald W. Reagan's Iran/Contra actions as an effort to improve relations), Mr. Kerry has presided over a basically international effort to reach a deal, moving Iran back toward a reasonable relationship with the international community.

These efforts have been in the finest tradition of trying to build international consensus around U.S. goals. Engaged parties include such disparate players as China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the European Union. …

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