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 February 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.

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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 Bashir Al-Assad since 2011. 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.

“While in Rome, 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 that 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.

When he travels to the region, 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.

Bryan Bender

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Americans do not need semi-automatic weapons to protect their homes because a couple of blasts from a shotgun will scare off intruders.

“Buy a shotgun, buy a shotgun,” the vice president encouraged those worried about defending themselves. He was speaking in an online video as part of a Facebook town hall meeting hosted by Parents Magazine on the administration’s strategy for reducing gun violence, which he has led at the direction of President Obama.

Biden said he keeps two shotguns and shells locked up at home and he told his wife, Jill, to use them if she needs protection. He presumably was speaking about before he became vice president, a position that gives the couple full-time Secret Service protection.

“I said, ‘Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony ... take that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house,’ ” Biden said. ‘”You don’t need an AR-15. It’s harder to aim, it’s harder to use and in fact, you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself.”

Associated Press

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. The former political writer and columnist for the Chicago Tribune started his own political and media consulting firm in 1984.

NBC already employs Steve Schmidt, a top adviser to Obama’s 2008 opponent John McCain, as an analyst.

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will give paid speeches now that she has left the government.

The Manhattan-based Harry Walker Agency said on its website that Clinton has joined it exclusively for her future speaking engagements.

The agency represents high-profile figures who give paid speeches to organizations, conferences, and companies. Its roster includes Clinton’s husband and the former president, Bill Clinton; former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan; and Bono of the band U2.

It is not uncommon for prominent former public figures to join the lucrative speech circuit after leaving office. According to Senate disclosure forms Hillary Clinton filed in 2008, Bill Clinton has been paid as much as $290,000 per speech.

Representatives for the Harry Walker Agency and Clinton did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Associated Press