Kerry heads home after Iraq, Afghanistan visits

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 7:35 a.m. CDT

PARIS — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry headed for home Wednesday after making clandestine journeys to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he delivered a stern warning to Iraqi leaders about Syria and sought to patch up differences with Afghanistan's president.

Kerry was flying back to Washington from Paris, having piggy-backed off President Barack Obama's trip to the Middle East to make unannounced stops in Baghdad and Kabul, as well as following up on Obama's discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

In Iraq, he told Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that shipments of Iranian weapons and fighters through Iraqi territory must stop. In Afghanistan, he put on a show of unity with President Hamid Karzai, whose recent anti-American comments had angered U.S. officials.

Kerry's first foray as secretary of state into the war zones were shrouded in secrecy for security reasons.

Using Jordan — the last stop on Obama's tour — as a base, Kerry flew surreptitiously to Baghdad aboard a military transport plane Sunday for meetings with al-Maliki and other Iraq officials just four days after the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

A key message, officials said, was to warn Iraq that unless it cracks down on Iranian planes and trucks using Iraqi territory to supply Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime with arms, it will not have a voice in ongoing preparations for a post-Assad Syria. He also urged the Iraqis to overcome deep sectarian differences that have fueled consistent instability since the departure of U.S. troops in late 2011, and to hold inclusive, transparent local elections next month.

After returning to Jordan, where he had dinner with Pakistan's army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Kerry flew to Afghanistan on Monday for talks with Karzai amid fears the Afghan leader might be jeopardizing progress in the war against extremism with anti-American rhetoric.

While Kerry was there, the Taliban claimed responsibility for eight suicide bombers attacking a police headquarters in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing five officers and wounding four.

Karzai infuriated U.S. officials earlier this month by accusing Washington of colluding with Taliban insurgents to keep Afghanistan weak even as the Obama administration pressed ahead with plans to hand off security responsibility to Afghan forces and end NATO's combat mission by the end of next year.

But after their talks, which coincided with the U.S. military ceding control of its last detention facility in Afghanistan, Kerry brushed aside concerns about Karzai's comments.

"We're on the same page," Kerry told reporters. "I don't think there is any disagreement between us and I am very, very comfortable with the president's explanation."

Karzai said he had been trying to make the point that if the Taliban really wanted foreign troops out of Afghanistan they should stop killing people.

Speaking to staffers at the embassy in Kabul before he left Tuesday, Kerry joked about the rapprochement, noting that the weather before his arrival had been cold and rainy. "President Karzai and I stood up and it was like the sun had been shining forever between us," he said to laughter. "It was wonderful."

Kerry then flew to Paris, where he met French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to discuss the crisis in Syria and also promoted a new trans-Atlantic trade agreement that the Obama administration is pushing.

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