Doubts remain over the commitment of Myanmar's military to democratic reform. Despite a shift away from authoritarian rule that has been rewarded by the relaxation of U.S. penalties, the military has waged an offensive against ethnic rebels in the country's north.
If confirmed as secretary of state, an immediate concern for Kerry will be the rising tension in Northeast Asia, where China, Japan and South Korea all are ushering in new leaders.
China's spat with Japan over contested islands threatens to embroil the U.S. if it escalates. While Washington will reaffirm its alliance with Japan, it also wants deeper ties with Beijing to dilute the risk of conflict breaking out. The U.S. will encourage Japan and South Korea, which both host American forces, to patch up relations strained over Tokyo's attitude toward its colonial past.
On North Korea, Kerry's arrival could herald a new approach.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was critical of the Obama administration's reluctance to negotiate with North Korea on its nuclear program, and held informal talks last year with visiting North Korean officials in New York.
But he'll also be aware of the pitfalls of such engagement. Within a week of the meeting in New York, the North dashed hopes of rapprochement by announcing a long-range rocket launch.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Matthew Pennington covers U.S.-Asian affairs for Associated Press in Washington.
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