Around the World

Art and Craft of Diplomacy: Secretary of State John Kerry Faces ‘Complex Agenda’

In her four years as the 67th Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton traveled nearly a million miles, visited 112 countries and had 1,700 meetings with world leaders. Besides a grueling travel schedule, the president’s chief foreign affairs adviser must wield all the tools of a negotiator: the art and craft of diplomacy.

This week Clinton steps down from her post. Taking her place is Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The new secretary of state faces plenty of challenges: the crisis in Syria, Iran, North Korea, Israeli-Palestinian relations. And that’s just to name a few. So how does the craft of diplomacy help the U.S. negotiate our increasingly complex geopolitical relationships?

In this episode of “Around the World,” Christiane speaks with R. Nicholas Burns. He served for 27 years in the U.S. foreign services, including as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008. Burns is now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he also teaches a course on diplomacy.

“I think Secretary of State Kerry is going to face the most complex agenda an American secretary of state is going to face in a very long time,” said Burns.

First and foremost on that agenda, Burns said, is a set of issues in the Middle East which are so troubling to American security. That includes a brutal, nearly two-year civil war in Syria; the nuclear threat from Iran; and an Egypt which is wrought with social tension and strife.

Each of these issues will call on Kerry’s expertise as a diplomat. In the case of Iran, that may mean a carrot and stick approach.

“The U.S. must apply sufficient economic and political pressure on Iran that it would convince Iranians that it's in their best interest to negotiate,” Burns said. “Both presidents (George W.) Bush and Obama struggled with this,” he said. “We often talk about the fact that the most skillful negotiators will make sure that the group of people across the table have an exit door, a way to define this as successful for them.”

As many secretaries of state have done before him, Kerry will also need to examine the state of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Burns believed more must be done.

“The United States has not tried, both in the Obama administration and in the first six years of the Bush administration,” he said.

Another diplomatic test is the 22-month uprising in Syria, in which the United Nations said the death toll has passed 60,000. Burns said the U.S. must step up as a more active leader to reinforce the coalition of countries against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and do a lot more to aid the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled to countries such as Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

Burns also said the U.S. should explore another tool, specifically to thwart Assad’s use of airpower by helicopter, gunship, fighter aircraft and bombers against the rebel coalition and civilians.

“I don’t think we should exclude a no-flight zone,” said Burns. “It’s not a panacea and it won’t lead to the end of the civil war, but it can very well quicken his demise as a political leader.”

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