John Kerry Loses Clout for Middle East Diplomacy
US President Barack Obama has been overtaken by a cycle of ruinous scandals which are undercutting his authority and prestige as a world leader. It is hard to tell how he will beat the charges claiming his administration secretly accessed the phone records of journalists; that the IRS targeted conservative groups and that the officials in authority failed to rescue four US diplomats murdered by terrorists in Benghazi last year.
More woes await the US president’s handling of foreign policy around the corner.
Iran holds a presidential election on June 14 (See separate article on front-runner Saeed Jalili).
After it is over, he will come face to face with the failure of his strategy of putting all his eggs in the diplomatic basket for curbing Iran’s drive for a nuclear bomb.
At one of the two hearings on Iran taking place in Congress on Wednesday May 15, lawmakers took the administration to task for coming out of five rounds of international negotiations with Iran and a slew of harsh economic sanctions with nothing to show, whereas Iran emerged free to plug ahead with its nuclear program undisturbed.
Wendy Sherman, the State Department undersecretary leading the US team to those negotiations, was forced to acknowledge that the administration’s diplomatic and economic initiatives had still not achieved results.
“We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” said Sherman. “Our preference is to resolve this through diplomacy. However, there should be no doubt that the United States will use all elements of American power to achieve that objective."
A bankrupt policy on nuclear Iran
The trouble is that American resolve is greeted these days with nothing but doubt – especially in the Middle East, where Obama’s international diplomacy on Iran is considered bankrupt. A nuclear Iran is fast becoming unstoppable and an Israeli military attack the only credible scenario left.
Four days after a new Iranian president is elected, Obama is due to attend the next G8 summit taking place June 17-18 at the five-star Lough Erne Hotel and golf resort on the shores of Loch Erne in Northern Ireland.
The summit of the world’s largest and most advanced economies will be led by Prime Minister David Cameron, holder of the G8 presidency in 2013. Cameron visited the White House on May 13, and received Obama’s thanks for his “leadership, partnership and support.”
But no one else in Washington or other G8 capitals was impressed. Cameron is not the brightest star in Europe. The latest UK polls indicate he will probably lose the next general election, thanks to his failure to haul the British economy out of its five-year slough.
The joint appearance of beleaguered Obama and fading Cameron on a world stage will hardly broadcast strong Western leadership. And the choice of Northern Ireland as the G8 venue, not exactly a glittering world center, downgrades the meeting by relegating it to a backwater
Kerry and peace diplomacy out on a limb
His boss’s troubles directly affect Secretary of State John Kerry and leave him out on a limb.
After meeting President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on May 7, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced they were convening an international conference to jointly resolve the Syria crisis.
But behind this show of accord, US and Russian officials agreed on nothing.
Kerry has since moved the conference timeline from late May to June. But the chances of a meeting this summer are fading.
In Moscow, the Secretary sensed that the mayhem in Washington had cut the ground from under his feet.
Putin, meanwhile, could hardly hide his smiles as US, British, German and Israeli leaders made pilgrimages to Moscow in the past two weeks to try and crack his solid support for the Assad regime and slow his Middle East momentum.
On Monday, May 13, the Russian leader staged a scene bearing the hallmarks of a Cold War spy thriller. He ordered the arrest – then expulsion – of Ryan Christopher Fogle, a career diplomat serving as third secretary in the Political Section of the US Embassy in Moscow.
The Federal Security Service-FSB accused him of trying to recruit a Russian intelligence officer for the CIA.
It was clear that he had fallen victim to an FSB sting operation and the wide publicity was aimed at humiliating the CIA and the State Department.
Kerry is being brought up short on the diplomatic initiatives he started rolling in the past five months by the loss of steady direction from Washington. His efforts for a breakthrough on the Syrian impasse have run aground and he is losing momentum for getting the ball rolling for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – on which he focused heavily – when he arrives in the Middle East next month.