John Kerry Is In a Diplomatic Groove, But It Might Not Last

CNN/ Newswire | 1/20/2016, 9:34 a.m.
John Kerry loves Davos. In a welcome respite from a torrent of Republican criticism over Iran, Syria and other controversial ...
Secretary of State John Kerry

By Elise Labott


ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE (CNN) -- John Kerry loves Davos.

In a welcome respite from a torrent of Republican criticism over Iran, Syria and other controversial foreign policies, Kerry will arrive at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday ready to bask in the glow of an international crowd that is more supportive of his diplomacy than are his domestic critics.

He has long traveled to the annual Switzerland gathering, schmoozing with the world's elite and debating weighty global and economic issues as a senator and, as secretary of state, representing the popular voice of the United States in a world gone awry.

Now Kerry's set to tout a string of diplomatic achievements. He travels to Davos fresh from the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and the release of five Americans from Iranian custody.

Together, the diplomatic achievements represent two years of painstaking diplomacy by Kerry, during which the United States and Iran have built a relationship that, while still fraught with mistrust, actually functions. His personal relationship with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has become an important channel that helped facilitate the release within 24 hours of the 10 U.S. sailors who drifted into Iranian waters last week.

Aides say Kerry will be touting a series of diplomatic coups by the Obama administration at the gathering, which kicks off a weeklong multicountry tour through Europe and Asia.

In addition to the nuclear deal, Kerry will also point to the historic restoration of ties with Cuba, reaching a global climate change agreement in Paris and drafting the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 Pacific nations.

And in a major address to the Davos forum, he will try to reframe issues that have challenged the Obama administration, including making the case that the U.S.-led strategy against ISIS is showing steady progress, even while he concedes more needs to be done.

"It has been a very good run over the last six months and I think he wants to make sure that people are aware of that," one senior State Department official said.

Receiving the international praise of the nuclear deal, which the vast majority of countries around the world support, will be a pleasant reprieve from the criticism Kerry and the White House faced this weekend.

While Republicans hailed the Americans' release, they blasted the Obama administration as foolish for negotiating a prisoner swap with Iran that they say creates an incentive for other rogue countries to detain innocent Americans to gain concessions from Washington.

Moreover, the implementation of the nuclear deal and the subsequent lifting of economic sanctions against Iran renewed the intense Republican criticism over the accord and threats by the 2016 GOP presidential contenders to rip it up after President Barack Obama leaves office.

But though the Iran deal may represent a diplomatic achievement for Kerry, it will also create some challenges on his world tour. In the Middle East and Asia, he will need to defend that deal to skeptical allies whose support he needs to end the civil war in Syria and defeat ISIS.