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Kerry off on mega Mideast, Asia tour

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US Secretary of State John Kerry leaves Friday on a 12-day trip during which he will return to the Middle East, hold high-level talks in Southeast Asia and make his first visit to India.

At the start of his seven-nation tour, Kerry will head to Doha to meet with Qatari leaders and take part in a meeting of the core ministers from the Friends of Syria group, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

The top US diplomat will then travel to India from June 23-25 for his first official visit since taking up his post on February 1, to chair the fourth annual US-India strategic dialogue.

The forum reflects "the strong strategic partnership between our countries," Psaki said, and will take up issues ranging from security and defense to science, climate change and economic ties, as well as space cooperation.

Originally Kerry had planned to visit Pakistan, Psaki confirmed, but it was decided to arrange the trip when he would have more time.

"He had planned to go, but the way his schedule ended up, he wouldn't have been able to spend as much time as he wanted to," she told reporters.

She said the delay was not meant as a snub.

"Absolutely not. The secretary is ready to go. He wants to go. We're working on scheduling."

From Delhi, Kerry will travel to Saudi Arabia to meet top Saudi officials, before heading to Kuwait City on June 26.

From June 27 to 29, the US secretary of state will visit Jordan before making his fifth visit to Israel to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Kerry is trying to coax the two sides to resume negotiations frozen for almost three years, and has been pursuing what he calls a "quiet strategy" to kickstart the peace process.

He had been forced to postpone the trip to Israel planned for earlier this month as the US administration weighed the crisis in Syria.

But in his first few months in office, he will now have visited Israel more times than his predecessor Hillary Clinton during her whole four-year tenure.

Psaki confirmed that Kerry was, however, not planning to visit the West Bank and would instead meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Amman.

From Jerusalem, Kerry will head to Brunei from June 30 to July 2 for meetings with Asian leaders including annual ASEAN-US talks as well as the ASEAN regional forum and a foreign ministers meeting of the East Asia Summit.

He is due to return to Washington on July 2.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130619/kerry-mega-mideast-asia-tour-0