Opinion

David Rohde

John Kerry has not yet saved — or destroyed — the Middle East

David Rohde
Nov 27, 2013 03:20 UTC

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry appear to have run the table in Middle East diplomacy. An interim nuclear agreement with Iran has been reached, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are underway and peace talks to end Syria’s civil war are slated to begin in January.

For an administration under siege domestically, press coverage declaring the triumph of Obama diplomacy over Bush-era militarism is a political godsend.

But talk in Washington of a legacy-defining breakthrough for Obama is overstated and premature. So are the apocalyptic warnings of Iranian hegemony now coming from Jerusalem and Riyadh.

Fundamental differences must be overcome before a comprehensive nuclear pact with Iran, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement or a Syria ceasefire can be brokered. In all three cases, the White House and Kerry ignored, avoided or fudged thorny issues — and declared success.

First of all, Kerry and the White House deserve praise for simply reaching this point. Defying deep skepticism in Washington and the region, they embarked on risky diplomatic overtures that ranged from Kerry’s quixotic public effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement to a secret meeting between American and Iranian officials in Oman last March.

John Kerry will not be denied

David Rohde
Nov 21, 2013 02:01 UTC

The secretary of state’s critics call him arrogant, undisciplined, and reckless — but his relentlessness in pursuit of negotiations might produce some of the most important diplomatic breakthroughs in years.

When John Kerry succeeded Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in February, Clinton’s emotional departure from the State Department received blanket media coverage. Kerry’s arrival received next to none.

“So here’s the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years,” Kerry said in a speech to State Department employees on his first day on the job. “Can a man actually run the State Department? I don’t know.”

A Syria gift Obama must use wisely

David Rohde
Sep 10, 2013 16:46 UTC

In a sober, narrowly framed speech Tuesday night,  President Barack Obama argued that deterring chemical weapons use – not regime change – remained the goal of any American military strike in Syria. Ob ama said he would delay a vote in Congress on the issue, seek a UN resolution requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and explore Russia’s surprising – and probably  - offer to help secure Syria’s chemical weapons.

The speech’s most interesting passage was its final one. On the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, Obama offered a rough outline of a new, more limited vision of America’s role in the world.

“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong,” Obama said. “But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

Kerry’s triumph may not last long

David Rohde
Jul 19, 2013 19:11 UTC

AMMAN, JORDAN – Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that Israeli and Palestinian officials had reached an agreement that “establishes a basis” for the resumption of direct peace talks is a badly needed foreign policy achievement for the Obama administration.

The talks are not yet finalized and seem unlikely to eventually succeed, but six months of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry is the first example of successful American diplomacy in the Middle East in several years.

The difficulties Kerry faced in simply getting the two sides to resume talks three years after the last round collapsed shows how difficult the path ahead will be. The negotiations are so sensitive that he and other American officials refused to release details of the agreement on Friday.

Tech, prosperity and peace on West Bank

David Rohde
May 31, 2013 21:51 UTC

Secretary of State John Kerry (C) shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting at the Dead Sea, May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young 

RAMALLAH, West Bank – At first glance, it is a tech utopian’s dream. For the last two years, several dozen Palestinian entrepreneurs have been getting training from Israeli high tech experts courtesy of the American firm Cisco Systems.

The sessions feature no talk of politics. Instead, Israelis coach Palestinians on the latest trends in software development processes, best practices and branding.

Changing Assad’s calculus

David Rohde
May 23, 2013 21:31 UTC

A deserted street with building destroyed by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad , near Aleppo International airport, May 20, 2013. REUTERS/Nour Kelze

AMMAN, Jordan – Secretary of State John Kerry and 10 European and Arab foreign ministers gathered here Wednesday night to again talk about helping Syria’s rebels.

As the international community discussed “grand strategy,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was taking decisive action.

The devil who can’t deliver

David Rohde
May 9, 2013 13:30 UTC

Picture of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad riddled with holes on the Aleppo police academy, after capture by Free Syrian Army fighters, March 4, 2013.  REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

MOSCOW – After marathon meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry here Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hinted that Moscow may finally pressure Syrian President Bashir al-Assad to leave office.

“We are not interested in the fate of certain individuals,” Lavrov said at a late night news conference. “We are interested in the fate of the Syrian people.”

Clinton: International portfolio, domestic concerns

David Rohde
Jan 11, 2013 00:22 UTC

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday hosted a working dinner here for Afghan President Hamid Karzai – one of her last official meetings with a foreign head of state.

On paper, Karzai’s talks with Clinton are historic. A famed American political figure is helping negotiate the end of the longest war in U.S. history – a 12-year odyssey that has claimed 2,100 American lives and more than $600 billion in treasure.

But Karzai’s visit is being greeted with a yawn. There has been more media coverage of Clinton’s exhaustive travel, physical appearance and political prospects in recent days than her wartime diplomacy.

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