Kerry "Pivots" to Europe (3/5)     Print Email

By Dan Mahoney, European Affairs Editorial Assistant

Less than a month after becoming of Secretary of State, John Kerry embarked on his first international trip with an eleven day “listening tour” of Europe and the Middle East. In Europe, Kerry visited London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Ankara before moving on to Cairo. The State Department called Kerry’s choice to make Europe the first stop on his trip is “a real reflection of the degree to which we coordinate our global cooperation with these partners.”

The inaugural Kerry trip starkly contrasts with Hillary Clinton’s first trip as Secretary of State, when she went on an extensive tour of Asia, thereby symbolizing America’s strategic “pivot” to the East. Secretary Kerry’s decision to make Europe his first stop ignited hopes in European capitals that the US has renewed focus on Europe as a key strategic ally; an emphasis already bolstered by the Obama administration’s decision to pursue a comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union. Although Kerry did not, schedule a visit to Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU, he had already met with High Representative Cathy Ashton in Washington on Valentine’s Day.

Kerry began his tour on February 24 in London where he met with Foreign Secretary William Hague before moving on to Berlin to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Secretary Guido Westerwelle. Following his meetings in Berlin, Kerry spoke about the prospects of a free-trade agreement through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Program (TTIP). He noted that such a deal would “create jobs for Americans, for Germans for all Europeans, and create one of the largest allied markets in the world.” Westerwelle added that TTIP negotiations should begin in the summer. While in Berlin, Kerry also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov concerning developments in Syria. In his remarks to a group of German students, Kerry was made some headlines by saying that in America, people “have a right to be stupid if you want to be.” This comment was in the context of explaining the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.

From Berlin, Kerry travelled to Paris to meet with President Hollande and Foreign Minister Fabius to discuss developments in Mali and Syria, among other issues. As in Berlin, Kerry remarked about the potential benefits of a TTIP agreement, noting that such a deal could “add to over 13 million Americans and European jobs that are already supported by the current trade and investment that we have today.”

In Rome, Secretary Kerry held a working dinner with a group of European foreign ministers as well as NATO Secretary General Rasmussen and EU head of foreign affairs Catherine Ashton. Kerry and the ministers discussed the TTIP, as well as security concerns in Syria and Mali. The Secretary also met with Syrian opposition leaders in Rome to discuss the on-going conflict in the country and possible solutions, while also offering $60 million in non-lethal aid to the rebels. The European Union enacted a similar aid package in February.

Secretary Kerry was well-received at each of his European stops and was able to charm his hosts with passable French and German at press briefings. Having lived in Germany, France, and Switzerland as a child, Kerry impressed his audiences with stories of his youth, including his experiences in a divided Berlin. Der Spiegel, a leading German publication, titled Kerry “Europe’s last fan in Washington,” while France24 dubbed him “Monsieur John Kerry.”