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World

Kerry's European And Middle East Diplomatic Tour A Balancing Act

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to calm tempers over the al-Aqsa dispute. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with him. They are in Vienna this morning. And Michele, what is Kerry's role in this dispute?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: He's really the go-between here. He met yesterday in Berlin with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to talk about what Israel could do to show its commitment to the status quo. And Kerry's going to be in Jordan Saturday to meet with King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The secretary says he's trying to get everyone to tone down the rhetoric and clarify what the status quo means when it comes to access to that sensitive religious site.

MONTAGNE: Well, the other big item on Kerry's agenda is Syria, which of course now involves Russia. Who is he meeting with today?

KELEMEN: Well, on the one side, there are the Turks and the Saudis, who are part of the U.S. coalition, though they've sounded frustrated with the U.S. over the years and want to see Washington do more to support rebels trying to oust Bashar al-Assad in Syria. And then there are the Russians, who have taken the military and now the diplomatic initiative on Syria. President Vladimir Putin hosted Assad in Moscow this week. He's now calling on the U.S. to cooperate with Russia in Syria. His foreign minister is here in Vienna to follow up on that. Secretary Kerry has said the U.S. and its partners agree on some things with Russia. That's the need for Syria to be whole and secular. But he says the one thing standing in the way of a political solution is Assad. The U.S. has been pushing for a political transition away from Assad. The Russians have talked about the need for a political solution too. But they are backing Assad up with both military and diplomatic power now.

MONTAGNE: Michele, thanks.

KELEMEN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michele Kelemen, travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to us where they are now in Vienna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.