John Kerry: master diplomat seeking elusive peace deal

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By plane, motorcade and occasional helicopter, top U.S. diplomat John Kerry is diving into his new role, burning midnight oil as he seeks an elusive Mideast peace deal.

After six high-profile trips to the region in as many months, the U.S. secretary of state announced Friday he has something to show for his efforts: an upcoming meeting in Washington where Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will discuss a possible resumption of peace talks.

It is a far more immediate result than Kerry had come to expect after nearly three decades in the U.S. Senate and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he could often be seen chafing at the slow pace of U.S. legislative action on global affairs.

But he landed his dream job this year, taking up the helm at the State Department on February 1 to help shape America’s foreign policy.

Kerry, 69, brings impeccable credentials to the position.

He has met most of the world’s top movers and shakers, from Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, from China’s President Xi Jinping to scores of European, African and Asian leaders.

“He really does see this as a capstone to his career,” said Tyson Barker, director for transatlantic relations at the Bertelsmann Foundation North America.

Kerry, perhaps best known abroad for his failed 2004 presidential bid, took over from Hillary Clinton, who won accolades during her four years on the job.

His focus has largely been the Middle East, where his shuttle diplomacy has paid dividends.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, greeting Kerry in June, made no effort to downplay the immense pressure on the American to bring the two sides to the table, telling him there was “great expectation that you will do it and that you can do it.”

The son of a U.S. diplomat who grew up amid the rubble of Berlin, Kerry criss-crossed Europe as a child, fought in Vietnam, then returned to fight against the war.

“It’s as if John Kerry stepped out of one of those portraits on the seventh floor of the State Department. He’s been in training for this job for decades,” said Martin Indyk, foreign policy director at the Brookings Institution.

At his January confirmation hearing, Kerry set out some clear foreign policy priorities. He warned the U.S. would do “what we must” to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and told China he would work to strengthen ties.

He also vowed to be “a passionate advocate” to tackle climate change.

Kerry was born in Denver, Colorado on December 11, 1943 to a privileged family. His mother Rosemary was part of the Forbes shipping clan and spent much of her early life on an estate in France.

His father Richard was a pilot in the Army Air Corps and went on to join the U.S. foreign service.

In 1970, Kerry married Julia Thorne. They had two daughters but divorced in 1988, and he married ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz in 1995.

Kerry’s childhood, spent in private schools in Switzerland and New England, fashioned the character of the so-called “Boston Brahmin” who would eventually face blistering Republican attacks for his internationalist views.

Kerry has said World War II and following his father to Cold War diplomatic postings in Berlin and Oslo taught him it was important for the United States to act through international alliances to address conflicts.

After graduating with a law degree from Yale University in 1966, Kerry joined the Navy and volunteered to fight in Vietnam.

During his second 48-day tour, as a lieutenant in charge of dangerous “Swift” gunboat missions in the Mekong Delta, Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts for wounds suffered and a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for valor.

But he returned from Vietnam disenchanted with the war, and, in testimony before Congress in April 1971, he famously asked: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

His remarks made him a hero of the anti-war left in the 1970s and underpinned his 2004 election-year opposition to the Iraq war.

But during that election Kerry faced charges of being a “flip-flopper” over his vote to authorize the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and his subsequent opposition to the war.

To make matters worse, a group of Vietnam veterans known as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth released a series of blistering attack ads accusing Kerry of lying about his service.

Kerry eventually pushed back, saying the ads were completely false. Republican Senator John McCain, a fellow veteran, also condemned them, but Kerry nevertheless lost the 2004 election.

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