The year 2013 has been busy for Secretary of State John Kerry. It has been almost a year since Hillary Clinton left the job and Kerry stepped in to fill what seemed at the time to be some very large shoes.
But in his first year as America’s top diplomat Kerry has padded his resume with several notable accomplishments, and managed to carve out a very prominent role for himself — so much so that it has many pundits arguing over whether Clinton’s term as secretary of state was successful.
However, Kerry also has some particularly difficult challenges ahead of him. Here’s a look at some of Kerry’s top accomplishments in 2013 and top challenges he faces in 2014.
In August and September, a military strike against Syria seemed almost inevitable, until at the 11th hour John Kerry made what seemed to be an off-the-cuff remark that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could turn over his complete stockpile of chemical weapons, the U.S. would not take military action against the country. Almost instantly it seemed, the situation changed, and Kerry, via Russian president Vladimir Putin, brokered a deal with Assad wherein the Syrian leader agreed to hand over said weapons. How much credit goes to Kerry vs. how much credit goes to Putin is still a subject of debate, but Kerry played an undeniably important role in averting military action in that situation.
Peace Talks Begin Again
Kerry arrived in Ramallah this week — his ninth trip to Israel since becoming secretary of state — to continue his push for a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. So far it does not appear as though any significant progress has been made beyond getting the two countries to begin a dialogue, but just that development in and of itself is notable and Kerry has gotten credit for his dogged pursuit of this diplomatic challenge that has eluded so many before him.
Kerry’s most high-profile accomplishment so far has been his role in securing an interim nuclear agreement with Iran, wherein the country agreed to halt some parts of its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of some economic sanctions. This was a tangible accomplishment with the vast amount of credit going to Kerry, who was a central negotiator.
The future of America’s presence in Afghanistan will be a prominent challenge in 2014. The Obama administration has been in the process of negotiating an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to keep some troops — largely for peacekeeping, in addition to some counter-terrorism activity — in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, but so far a deal has not been reached, and the clock is ticking. If there’s no deal by end of 2014, the United States will be forced to withdraw all of its remaining troops, an outcome that would not benefit either the U.S. or Afghanistan.
Iran: What Happens Next?
Interim is the key word in the nuclear agreement with Iran. The nuclear deal, struck in Geneva in November, lasts for six months, during which time negotiations towards a more long-term agreement are meant to continue. The agreement has not yet taken effect, but the real challenge lies in Congress, where the agreement has not been well-received and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have threatened to impose additional sanctions on Iran — an action that would likely have an adverse impact on the on-going nuclear negotiations.
Watch Martha Raddatz interview John Kerry in Vietnam this Sunday on “This Week.”
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