New US Secretary of State, John Kerry faces the toughest of assignments as he begins a week-long trip to the Middle East, which will take in Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. Tensions with Iran on the Israeli-Palestinian front and Eastern Mediterranean region are rising, civil war rages in Syria, and political systems in both Egypt and Iraq are threatening to fall apart. Energy issues lie at the heart of Washington’s post-Arab Spring policy dilemma, with rivalries over oil and gas driving several of the key regional conflicts.

Mr Kerry, who took over from Hillary Clinton as Washington’s top foreign affairs official only on 1 February, comes to the job with a reputation as both a liberal and a conviction politician. In 2011, as head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, he was an early advocate of imposing a ‘No-Fly Zone’ in Libya. After initially supporting the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, Mr Kerry, incidentally the richest serving US senator, became a noted critic of the war. And in his youth, the decorated Vietnam War veteran was a prominent opponent of US involvement in Vietnam. (CONTINUED - 1733 WORDS)