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.