Kerry Stresses That It’s ‘President Obama’s Foreign Policy’

March 6, 2013 - 5:34 AM

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Secretary of State John Kerry applauds as President Obama delivers the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill on February 12, 2013. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Whether on Syria, Egypt or Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry wants Americans to know that President Obama, not he, is in charge of America’s foreign policy.

In a round of interviews Tuesday with U.S. media outlets in Qatar, the last stop on his inaugural foreign trip as top U.S. diplomat, Kerry repeatedly stressed that the decisions were Obama’s.

Asked whether the United States could “afford the kind of foreign policy that you want to lead” – with reference to the announcement of more aid to Egypt, among other things – Kerry told NPR’s Michele Kelemen, “Let me say to you very directly, first of all, this is President Obama’s foreign policy, and the president and I agree 100 percent that Egypt is vital to the region, to our interests.”

Asked by CNN’s Jill Dougherty whether he would be willing “to sit down with the Iranians,” Kerry said, “Well, I’m willing to do what the president instructs me to do, and the president calls that shot.”

When CBS News’ Margaret Brennan asked Kerry, “what would it take for you to take that next step” on supporting the anti-Assad opposition in Syria, he told her, “Well, it’s not me … it’s a matter of the president, and there has to be, obviously, a process by which that decision might or might not be made. I’m going to go back and report to the president the things I’ve heard.”

ABC News’ Martha Raddatz asked him, “Would you rule out lethal aid [to Syrian rebels] in the future?” and Kerry answered, “That’s not my job to do. That’s the president of the United States’ decision …”

And to a question about “the Kerry approach to foreign policy,” he replied, “Well, first of all, let me emphasize it’s not the Kerry approach to foreign policy, it’s the Obama approach. It’s President Obama’s approach, and his administration. I certainly will weigh in with my ideas and my views. That’s what he asked me to do in taking on this job. And obviously, you know me well enough to know I have some views about some things I think we ought to do. But it’s up to the president to make those choices.”

Kerry’s predecessor as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was generally viewed as a success in the post, but signs emerged of differences within the first term administration over key issues. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a Senate hearing last month that he, Clinton, then-CIA Director David Petraeus and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey had supported a plan to arm vetted Syrian rebels, but that it was vetoed by the White House.

Kerry, a longstanding member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its chairman for the past four years, took pains in the interviews Tuesday to portray the administration as a united one, repeatedly praising Obama and saying he was honored to have been asked to serve as his secretary of state.

Asked by NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell what it was like to “take instructions on foreign policy from people in the White House who frankly don’t have as much experience as you,” he said, “Well, don’t – there’s lots of experience in the White House. Please don’t diminish that, number one. And number two, I’m delighted to work for this president, with the president and his advisors. It’s a great team.”

He told NPR’s Kelemen, “I am pleased to be part of President Obama’s team particularly, because as you know, I supported him in ’08. I asked him to give the keynote address at my convention in ’04. I’ve admired him and respected him.”

CNN’s Dougherty suggested that while the first term administration was said to be “a team of rivals,” some people view this one as “kind of ‘group think,’ many people who are kind of on the same page on the issues.”

But Kerry pushed back at that notion, saying that “the president asked me not to come on to be a ‘yes’ person. He asked me to come on to share my views, my thinking, my years of experience.”

“My job is to tell him the truth and to tell him what I see and to give him the best advice that I can. And I’m confident that everybody else on his staff works to do exactly that. And the president, in the end, makes the tough calls.”