'All Roads Lead to Rome'

Posted by David Thorne
May 10, 2013
Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Thorne Appear Before Reporters in Rome

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Rome 10 weeks ago, but welcoming him back to Italy again is special, for we share much history and a long friendship.  We both were the sons of diplomats who served in post-war Europe, and as young boys we both lived through the Marshall Plan and have similar memories of Europe's rebirth from the destruction of WWII.  Later as young men, we became close friends during college, playing soccer for Yale, touring Europe in a London taxicab I bought, and serving together in Vietnam.  In addition to welcoming back an old friend, however, the Secretary's May 8-9 visit to Italy provided the opportunity for the United States to advance diplomacy on the Syrian crisis and Middle East peace with Jordan, Israel, the Quartet on the Middle East, and our key ally Italy, reminding us all that the ancient maxim still rings true: all roads really do lead to Rome.

I was happy to host the majority of the Secretary's meetings at my home, Villa Taverna, a structure that dates to the 16th century and has served as the residence of United States Ambassadors since 1933.  Many important moments in diplomatic history have occurred at Villa Taverna, and the villa's architecture, art, and gardens create an environment in which world leaders continue to be welcomed to address the urgent issues of our day.  Alexander Calder's abstract Sabot proved to be an inspirational focal point for the discussions in the garden.

The Secretary's May 8-9 visit is now part of Villa Taverna's diplomatic history.  On his first day, he met with Israel's top negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, to advance peace in the Middle East.  The meeting had a sense of urgency, with the Secretary characterizing their discussions as possessing “a seriousness of purpose that has not been present in a while.”  The Secretary also announced that he would make his fourth trip back to Israel before the end of the month to continue the negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in an effort to revive Middle East peace talks.

 

The following morning the Secretary met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh to discuss the crisis in Syria.  Fresh off his trip to Russia, the Secretary said all sides were working to “effect a transition government by mutual consent of both sides, which clearly means that in our judgment President Al Assad will not be a component of that transitional government.”  The Secretary then announced $100 million in additional US humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees, almost half of which will go to help Jordan cope with the 525,000 refugees currently in Jordan.

Later in the day, the Secretary met privately in the gardens of Villa Taverna for over two hours with Quartet Representative Tony Blair.  Their discussions focused on ways to resume the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the urgency of doing so.

I was honored to accompany the Secretary to meetings with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, an important opportunity for the Secretary to meet and congratulate the new Italian government.  We discussed a wide range of bilateral and regional issues.  At the press conference following his meeting with the Foreign Minister, the Secretary thanked Italy because “Italy’s voice has been particularly important with respect to the challenge of Syria.”  Foreign Minister Bonino was astute, commenting “Rome is becoming a diplomatic crossroads for a new, very important round of talks, the aim of which is to get the peace process going once again.”  She’s right, of course: all roads still lead to Rome.

About the Author: David Thorne serves as U.S. Ambassador to Italy.

Comments

Comments

Eric J.
|
United States
May 11, 2013

@ Amb. Thorne,

 Awhile back Dipmote had a thread on the Dept of State "going green", talking about roof-top gardens on embassies and such, but that's just some outstanding digs you're living in!

 Thanks for your synopsis on events. I hope the Secretary was able to get some R&R while he was there, it's pretty obvious he's been working his tail off trying to get the whole world on the same page on a number of issues.

  An odd thought struck me about five minutes after I finished watching his briefing with FM Bonino, and digesting his answer to the reporter's question regarding Russian S-300 sales to the Syrian regime.

  Bear with me on this sir, as it's probably an odd thought among many posted here over the years, as I am on record on this blog for suggesting that The Russian Federation has a most unique way of shooting itself in the foot...one toe at a time. That after they agreed to support diplomacy and a political transition in Syria, I just figured they didn't have any left to blow off and we we're going to lend them a political crutch to get to the negotiating table with.

  Now it would seem if the news reports are true that the Russians are taking aim on other body parts not mentionable in polite company...but I gotta take news reports with a grain of salt, and the Secretary didn't seems all that worried about it.

  I mean such a sale would be an absolute "game changing" "red line" for Israel, and I doubt that sale would be completed as it would pretty well push them to make sure Assad & Co. was no longer on the planet to take delivery of it. It would threaten to force a kinetic solution in other words.

  So that's when the odd hypothetical "what if" crossed my mind...being that Mr. Putin  seemed pretty adament that the Russians no longer wanted any further violence to take place in Syria.

  The "what if' they went ahead and accepted payment for the S-300's, but instead of delivering them to Assad, they parked a few in Jordan , Turkey, and Israel to augment our Patriot-3's.

  The Russians did indicate they have no loyalty to Assad if I'm not mistaken, and I can't think of better way at this point in time that the Russian federation could do more to earn the respect and thanks of a whole lot of folks in the entire region, than if they were to flat turn the tables on Assad and help set up a no fly zone over Syria.

  Talk about changing Assad's "calculus"...(grin).

  For what it's worth, if no one has suggested this option to the Russians yet...I figured I'd run this little gem of analysis by you, and that if it made too much sense to ignore you'd know what to do with it.

  Best Regards,

  EJ

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