On Wednesday night, Senator John Kerry (D, MA) completed a six-day, six-nation trip that show-cased his growing role in helping the Obama administration negotiate potentially explosive situations.
Kerry, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to Khartoum and Addis Ababa to deliver a White House offer for better relations in exchange for concrete steps towards peace in Sudan, Africa's largest country. Then he spent time in Lebanon and Syria, where he tried to smooth mounting tensions over a UN tribunal. He ended his trip in Israel and the West Bank.
In a telephone call with reporters from Israel before he boarded the plane home, Kerry said he held extensive discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to get them back to direct peace talks. The peace process re-launched by Obama in September has been steadily unraveling since Palestinian leaders refused to return to talks in response to Israel's decision not to extend a moratorium on settlement building. Israel's recent announcement of plans for 1,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem has further dimmed hope for progress.
But yesterday, Kerry said he has been exploring "creative" solutions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that might bring them back to the talks. He said he believed that Israel might still be convinced to extend the moratorium, but that there were other ways around the impasse.
" I also don't think that we are without other creative avenues to deal with 'How do you get back to direct talks?' " he said.
He declined to spell out those ideas in detail, saying he had to discuss them with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first.
Kerry said the United States should not get "bogged down" in an extended debate over settlements now.
"I think that we need to keep our eye on the prize here," he said. "I think the more important debate frankly is on the borders and security needs for Israel."
On Lebanon, Kerry said that he supported the continued work of a UN Tribunal into the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, even though the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah has threatened to destabilize the country if its leaders are implicated.
"Clearly there is a risk," Kerry said. "It is a tense moment and an important moment."
He said the world should not allow violent actors "to intimidate a lawful UN institution."
On Sudan, Kerry said he was asked to deliver a delicate White House message because of his role because Congress is the body that can remove sanctions from Sudan, and also because of his relationship with key players there. Kerry, who is widely believed to want the job of Secretary of State, made a case for himself: "I think the president felt that because I had those relationships, because I bring that different angle, perhaps because I was known to those guys, both as a presidential candidate and the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, it would help to add something that was not there previously."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.