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Restless Kerry puts the shuttling in diplomacy

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

After a dinner lasting nearly until Sunday dawn with Israel's premier and ahead of talks with the Palestinian president and flying to Asia, John Kerry had a window of just a few hours.

But instead of slipping under the covers to sleep, the US secretary of state decided to see Jerusalem instead.

With aides and bodyguards, Kerry took a 4 am stroll in a nearby park, enjoying the cool morning air of the hotly contested Holy City.

Kerry finally had a brief rest and drove to Ramallah, where he voiced delight over Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf's victory in the "Arab Idol" TV competition before speaking cheerfully to reporters on the prospects for peace talks.

The round-the-clock pace, and agile shifts in focus, has become emblematic of Kerry's style of diplomacy as he shows a willingness -- even an eagerness -- to toss aside routines and schedules and enmesh himself in the gritty details.

Kerry, who has flown to the Middle East five times in as many months on a mission to solve one of the world's most emotive conflicts, spent four days talking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Whatever the outcome, Kerry's initiative involves no small number of logistical headaches, with his staff and accompanying reporters sometimes left guessing in the morning where they will end up that night.

Kerry met three times each with Netanyahu and Abbas from Thursday through Sunday, journeying by motorcade, his own plane and Jordanian military helicopters, which gave him a lift between meetings with Abbas in Amman.

He also scrapped entire stops. A visit to Islamabad, announced by Pakistan, was postponed so he could focus on the Syria crisis.

And then an announced dinner in Abu Dhabi to discuss Syria was also put off so he could spend more time shuttling between Netanyahu and Abbas.

His gruelling pace inevitably draws comparisons to his predecessor Hillary Clinton, who visited a record 112 countries during her four years as secretary of state during President Barack Obama's first term.

Both secretaries of state have key issues -- Clinton pressed for women's empowerment, while Kerry is passionate about climate change.

But Clinton mostly stayed out of the notoriously divisive task of Middle East peacemaking, instead relying on a special envoy as Netanyahu butted heads with Obama.

Few expect that Kerry, who at 69 has a long Senate career and failed presidential bid behind him, will run again for office. The son of a diplomat, Kerry has always been passionate about the need to try talks, even with US adversaries.

Kerry was optimistic that his intense efforts could eventually restart talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state.

"This process has been pretty dead in the water for four or five years. Now we're trying to come back from that," Kerry said.

He said he would have stayed longer in the Middle East if he had not been obliged to travel to the small sultanate of Brunei for a long-planned conference of Asian foreign ministers.

His schedule already produced the awkward predicament of visiting Jerusalem during Shabbat, the weekly sabbath during which observant Jews do not work or use electricity.

Kerry rushed from a Friday meeting with Netanyahu -- the shortest of their three days of encounters that totalled 13 hours -- to arrive in time for a dinner with President Shimon Peres.

After 7:15 pm on Friday (1615 GMT), Peres' staff would stop work for the sabbath and no cameras would be allowed. The secular-minded Peres, his eye on the clock, noted that the sabbath started at 7:30 in Tel Aviv.

"Let's make this a Tel Aviv Shabbat," Peres quipped before welcoming Kerry.

With Kerry leaving at the last moment for the ASEAN bloc's meeting in Brunei, which he eventually reached on time, another logistical bottleneck crept up.

His official Boeing 757 requires more frequent refuelling than larger planes, with a direct flight to Brunei impossible.

But the refuelling stop was planned for Oman, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel. And so the aircraft flew from Tel Aviv back to Jordan, one of two Arab countries to have relations with Israel.

The plane spent a matter of minutes on the ground in Amman before heading for Oman and then Brunei.

And Kerry, who changes on board from a suit to a Yale University sweatshirt, immediately got back on the phone with Netanyahu.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130701/restless-kerry-puts-the-shuttling-diplomacy