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Kerry takes case on Syria to Europe, Mideast

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John Kerry is embarking on his first official overseas voyage, bringing new ideas to capitals in Europe and the Middle East on how to end nearly two years of brutal violence in Syria.

Kerry leaves Washington on Sunday on a grueling nine-nation, 10-day trip that will bring him to America’s traditional western European allies of Britain, Germany, France and Italy along with Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. In addition to Syria, he will focus on conflicts in Mali and Afghanistan and Iran’s nuclear program.

Kerry has said he is eager to discuss new ways of convincing Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and usher in a democratic transition in the country that has been wracked by increasing violence that has killed at least 70,000 people. He has not offered details of his ideas but officials say they revolve around increasing pressure on Assad and his inner circle.

Kerry begins his trip in London where he will see senior British officials on a range of issues, from Afghanistan to the status of the Falkland Islands, over which Britain is in a major dispute with Argentina.

He then travels to Germany to discuss trans-Atlantic issues with German youth in Berlin, where he spent time as a child as the son of an American diplomat posted to the divided Cold War city. He will also meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the German capital.

In Paris, Kerry will discuss France’s ongoing intervention in Mali. And in Rome, he’ll attend a meeting with Syrian opposition leaders.

U.S. officials have said the trip will be primarily a “listening tour” when it comes to Syria and won’t result in immediate shifts in U.S. policy that has until now stayed clear of military support for the rebels fighting Assad.

Despite the numerous Middle East stops. Kerry will not travel to Israel or the Palestinian territories. He will wait to visit them when he accompanies President Obama there in March.

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