In Syria, the regime of President Bashar Assad — whom Kerry previously tried to coax into closer relations with the United States — is locked in fierce clashes with rebels across the country in some of the heaviest fighting in months. Some 60,000 people have been killed in the Arab country's two-year civil war and the violence is increasingly threatening to expand beyond Syria's borders, as illustrated by Israel's recent strike against a weapons convoy headed for Hezbollah.
Obama called for Assad to leave power in August 2011, but the U.S. has yet to devise a strategy to make that happen.
"We're taking a look at what steps, if any, diplomatic particularly, might be able to be taken in an effort to try to reduce that violence and deal with that situation," Kerry said last week, speaking to reporters for the first time as secretary of state.
The U.S., meanwhile, is trying to shore up its alliance with its closest ally in the region — Israel.
The White House announced last week that Obama will make his first presidential visit to the country in the spring.
Kerry's solo trip to Israel is meant as a preparatory visit, but neither he nor the president will unveil any new initiative to end more than six decades of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, U.S. officials said.
Instead, the talks will focus on building trust for longer-term peace efforts between the parties, as well as shared U.S.-Israeli concerns over Syria and Iran. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The same subjects are likely to be main topics of conversation when Kerry hosts Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, a key mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, on Wednesday.
Kerry then welcomes Thursday to the State Department the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, through whom the U.S. has directed its diplomacy with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
The United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are sending senior negotiators to meet with an Iranian delegation in Kazakhstan on Feb. 26, hoping to end years of stalemate with the Islamic republic over uranium enrichment activity that much of the world sees as the foundation to future nuclear weapons production. Iran insists its program is designed for peaceful energy and medical research purposes.
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