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Kerry kicks off multi-nation tour clouded by crises

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

US Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Turkey Saturday on a wide-ranging tour set to be dominated by many of the top world crises -- Syria, the Middle East peace process and North Korea.

After a plane door problem delayed his flight, Kerry flew out of Andrews Air Force Base on his way to Istanbul, where he will meet Sunday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss the unrelenting conflict in Syria.

He will then make his third trip back to the Middle East region since becoming the top US diplomat on February, heading for talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Expectations are growing that the US administration is ready to resume some kind of shuttle diplomacy to rekindle the moribund peace process, which has stalled since late 2010 amid bitter recriminations on both sides.

But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland cautioned on Thursday: "I would not expect the secretary to be putting down a plan."

The White House meanwhile announced Friday that President Barack Obama will host leaders from key US allies Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in the coming weeks amid the Syrian turmoil.

Kerry will meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday and Monday, in what would be a follow-up to visits last month by both Obama and the secretary of state.

"But he'll also be making clear that the parties themselves have to want to get back to the table, that this is a choice that they have to make, and that they've also got to recognize, both parties, that compromise and sacrifices are going to have to be made if we're going to be able to help," Nuland said.

Kerry's latest trip to Turkey also comes after Israel apologized to Ankara in late March for the deaths of nine Turkish activists in a botched raid by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound aid ship.

The breakthrough brokered by Obama ended a nearly three-year rift between Israel and Turkey.

After his talks in Israel, Kerry heads to a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in London, before then flying east for his first trip to Asia since taking up his post.

The ambitious, globe-trotting tour got off to a rough start as Kerry's flight out of Andrews was delayed more than three hours due to a problem with the plane's door.

Kerry, his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, security guards, staff and traveling reporters -- around 30 people in all -- had to disembark for three hours while a new plane was brought in, stocked and prepared for the journey.

They eventually took off around 10:30 am (1430 GMT).

The Asia leg of Kerry's tour will be overshadowed by increasingly bellicose threats made by North Korea in recent weeks, which have ramped up tensions on the heavily militarized peninsula.

Pyongyang has said it is ripping up the 60-year armistice which ended the Korean war in 1953 and on Friday warned foreign embassies to evacuate their nationals, saying it could not guarantee their safety if conflict erupts.

The spike in tensions came as Yonhap news agency, citing a top South Korean official, said Pyongyang had loaded two mid-range Musudan missiles on mobile launchers and hidden them in underground facilities near its east coast.

The White House said Friday it "would not be surprised" if North Korea carried out a missile test.

"We have seen them launch missiles in the past... And it would fit their current pattern of bellicose, unhelpful and unconstructive rhetoric and actions," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added that the United States would "leave the door open if the DPRK's willing to make a different choice," referring to North Korea by its official acronym.

Kerry will notably seek to pressure China, one of North Korea's only allies, to use its influence to rein in new leader Kim Jong-Un.

There has been speculation that Pyongyang might schedule a missile launch to coincide with the birthday of the North's late founder Kim Il-Sung in mid-April.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130406/kerry-kicks-multi-nation-tour-clouded-crises