John Kerry to visit Europe, Mideast on first trip

US Secretary of State John Kerry holds up his first diplomatic passport he received as an 11-year-old boy while making remarks to employees on his first day at the State Department on Feb. 4, 2013, in Washington, DC.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit nine countries in Europe and the Middle East starting Sunday as he undertakes his first foreign trip as top diplomat, the State Department said Tuesday.

Kerry will visit Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar through March 6, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Nuland said that the former senator's trip was partly a "listening tour," although in Rome he will take part in a meeting with the Syrian opposition and fellow countries that support the forces against President Bashar al-Assad.

"He'll look forward to hearing from the Syrian Opposition Coalition, what more they think we can do, and also to hear from counterparts who are deeply involved in supporting the opposition," Nuland said.

The newly installed US secretary of state will notably discuss Syria with regional players including Turkey, Egypt and Qatar, she said.

In Egypt, where tensions have been rising two years after the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, Kerry will meet with political leaders as well as civil society "to encourage greater political consensus and moving forward on economic reforms," Nuland said.

Kerry will also meet in Cairo with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, while in Riyadh he will also meet foreign ministers from Gulf Arab kingdoms.

He is not visiting Israel or the Palestinian territories. Nuland noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was still forming a government and said Kerry would join President Barack Obama on an upcoming visit to the Jewish state.

Nuland said that Kerry would speak in Paris about Mali, where France's military recently intervened to force out Islamists who had seized vast swathes of the African nation.

Kerry, who spent part of his youth in Germany, will use his stop in Berlin as "an opportunity to reconnect with the city in which he lived as a child" and meet with young Germans, Nuland said.

Kerry's first trip as secretary of state marks a sharp change from that of his predecessor Hillary Clinton, who headed to Asia in a sign of the new Obama administration's focus on the fast-growing region.

Nuland said that Kerry will visit Asia "early in his tenure" but that with any additional stops on the upcoming trip, "an already long excursion would be even longer."