John Kerry US Secretary of State ceaseless diplomacy faces sternest test on Syria

The moment in some ways captured the former politician's time as the top U.S. diplomat, which will end with a new administration in January.

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After last week's bombing of a U.N. aid convoy in Syria dealt a death blow to a ceasefire deal in which he had invested all his diplomatic capital with Russia, the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, tossed aside a page of notes and looked at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov across the horseshoe-shaped table in the U.N. Security Council.

"I listened to my colleague from Russia, and I sort of felt a little bit like they're sort of in a parallel universe here," said a visibly angry Kerry, effectively calling Lavrov a liar for blaming the United States for spoiling the ceasefire.

The moment in some ways captured the former politician's time as the top U.S. diplomat, which will end with a new administration in January.

Not for the first time, Kerry had invested months of intensive diplomacy and tireless traveling on an issue only to end up feeling let down or deceived by negotiating partners. On Syria, Kerry has wanted greater U.S. involvement than President Barack Obama was willing to support.

In an interview on Friday with Reuters, Kerry said Lavrov's "blatant obfuscation of reality ... took my breath away."

The attempted Syria ceasefire was his most ambitious effort to fix what some argue was the biggest foreign policy misstep of Obama's administration, which began with the failure in 2013 to follow through on a "red line" threat against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the use of chemical weapons.

Kerry hammered out the truce two weeks ago, but was left pleading in vain with Russia last week to halt renewed air strikes on the besieged city of Aleppo.

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James Dobbins, a former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, noted Kerry's "tireless, ceaseless engagement" even when pursuing administration policies he didn't always agree with.

"Kerry to his credit has stayed in the game even when he had a weak hand," said Dobbins, a career diplomat who worked alongside Kerry in 2013 to hammer out a deal with President Hamid Karzai to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

"The situation in Syria is too serious and too consequential to simply back off and leave it to others."

From Kerry's perspective, it is better to fail than not to have tried.

"The weakest hand of all would be to have another round of migrants going into Europe, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin do whatever he wants by dropping bombs and the United States doing nothing but pretending we're sending some support to people," Kerry told Reuters.

"That is the weakest hand, and it is far stronger to stand up and find a way to leverage getting to the table and getting some kind of an understanding," he added.

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