John Kerry’s maiden voyage as US secretary of state includes four stops in the Middle East: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. As the saying goes, he has only one chance to make a first impression – and what is said and not said on this visit will have repercussions for years to come.
Stopping first in Egypt made sense given its centrality to the Arab world and its continuing turbulence. It is impossible to know with certainty the message Mr Kerry conveyed in private to his hosts. But one hopes he introduced a sense of strict conditionality into US policy. The aim should not be that President Mohamed Morsi and his government succeed no matter what. Rather, US policy should be that Washington is prepared to work with and on behalf of Mr Morsi and a Muslim Brotherhood-led government only so long as they demonstrate a sustained commitment to pluralism at home – and to acting as a reliable partner abroad, be it with regard to Israel, Iran or Hamas.