Wed, Jun 05, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Kerry makes first trip in office to Latin America

AP, WASHINGTON

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the American Jewish Community Global Forum on Monday in Washington.

Photo: AFP

US Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to South America for the first time since taking office, leading a US delegation to a 35-nation Latin American organization he once disparaged as ineffective and nearly irrelevant.

Kerry was to depart yesterday for Guatemala, where he will attend the Organization of American States’ (OAS) annual general assembly at which counternarcotics and counterterrorism strategies, as well as human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere, are expected to be the main topics of discussion.

The OAS often is criticized in the US, and Kerry wrote a scathing editorial about its failures and need to reform three years ago while he was the chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The US Department of State on Monday said Kerry believes the bloc is an organization of critical importance to the Americas and that his participation in the two-day meeting in Guatemala is aimed at helping to strengthen it.

“The fact that he is going to the OAS and he is spending two days there participating sends a clear signal that he thinks this remains the premier multilateral organization in the hemisphere,” Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

As a senator in 2010, Kerry made similar, though not as subtle, points in an opinion piece he co-wrote with Senator Robert Menendez, his successor as head of the senatorial committee.

“Sadly, its culture of consensus has often been the breeding ground of the ideas that reflect the lowest common denominator, rather than the highest ambitions of diplomacy and cooperation, they wrote in the Miami Herald.

The pair excoriated the OAS for being “a pliable tool of inconsistent political agendas” and suggested that they agreed with critics who called the organization “a grazing pasture for third-string diplomats.”

Psaki played down the last comment, saying she “would hardly call the [US] secretary of state a third-string diplomat.”

Kerry’s mere presence at the meeting demonstrates his and the US administration’s commitment to improving the OAS, she said.

Since becoming the top US diplomat in February, Kerry has traveled more than 160,000km to visit 23 countries, but the trip to Guatemala will be his first in the Western Hemisphere.

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