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Tireless optimist

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Michael Knigge
February 23, 2016

It's pointless to speculate whether the ceasefire deal for Syria agreed in a phone call between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin will be fully implemented. If it is, however, one man will have had a lot to do with it.

USA Russland John Kerry mit Sergej Lawrow Syrien Gespräche in Zürich
Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Martin

US Secretary of State John Kerry has a lot to show for the waning days of what is likely to be the last major post in his long political career in Washington.

In the past 12 months alone, Kerry has been instrumental in hammering out three signature foreign policy deals for the Obama administration: the historic restoration of diplomatic ties to Cuba, the historic agreement with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program and the international climate change deal in Paris.

None of these achievements would have been possible without the White House supporting them and wanting them done. But wanting those deals to happen is very different from actually getting them done.

And it was Kerry, the former senator and almost-president, who can credibly claim the plaudits for sealing the historic deals with Washington's decades-old antagonists Iran and Cuba. He, together with President Barack Obama, was also instrumental in bringing China and other nations to the negotiating table in Paris.

No military option

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DW's Michael Knigge

Observing Kerry's tenure since he took over the post of top US diplomat from Hillary Clinton in 2013, it seems that, for him, negotiation is not just a crucial part of his profession, but a passion.

The best example of this disposition is arguably his stab at solving the intractable peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry, after taking office and against most experts' advice, immediately seized the issue, engaging in a frantic shuttle diplomacy with the region. His effort failed - just as everyone had predicted.

Kerry and his penchant for not accepting no as an answer, coupled with his refusal to give up, may not always work out - as evidenced by the Israel-Palestine peace deal failure. But he is the best fit for an administration that has decided - for better or for worse - that it is not prepared to use massive military force to solve international conflicts. Obama's well-documented aversion against military interventions in Syria, Libya and elsewhere, has diminished, if not devalued, a major bargaining chip in negotiating conflicts with adversaries who have no such qualms.

No end to negotiating

Given that framework, Kerry, for his part, has been incessantly trying to do everything he can diplomatically to achieve a breakthrough in Syria. Just last week in Munich, in a late-night session with his Russian counterpart and UN envoy Staffan de Mistura he drew up a plan for the cessation of hostilities in Syria.

It is precisely that plan that so far has still not been implemented and has now supposedly been resuscitated by the Obama-Putin call. Notwithstanding several unresolved key issues, Kerry, ever the optimist, has hailed the "final arrangements" for the end of hostilities in Syria and urged "all parties to accept and fully comply with its terms".

Regardless of whether or not the deal will eventually kick in on February 27 one thing seems clear already: No one can say that John Kerry didn't try hard enough.

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