John Kerry off on mega Mideast, Asia tour

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry leaves on Friday on a 12-day trip during which he will return to the Middle East, hold high-level talks in South-east Asia and make his first visit to India.

At the start of his seven-nation tour, Mr Kerry will head first for Doha to meet with top Qatari leaders and take part in a meeting of the core ministers from the Friends of Syria group, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said in a statement on Wednesday.

The top US diplomat will then travel to India from June 23-25 for his first official visit since taking up his post on Feb 1 to chair the fourth annual US-India strategic dialogue.

The forum is a way of "reflecting the strong strategic partnership between our countries," Ms Psaki said, adding they will discuss issues ranging from security and defence to science, climate change and economic ties, as well as space cooperation.

From Delhi, Mr Kerry will travel to Saudi Arabia to meet top Saudi officials, before heading to Kuwait City on June 26.

From June 27 to 29, the US secretary of state will return to the Middle East region with a stop in Jordan before making his fifth visit to Israel to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Mr Kerry is trying to coax the two sides to resume negotiations frozen for almost three years, and has being pursuing what he calls "a quiet strategy" to kickstart the peace process.

He had been forced to postpone the trip to Israel planned for earlier this month as the US administration weighed the crisis in Syria.

But in his first few months in office, he will now have visited Israel more times than his predecessor Hillary Clinton during her whole four-year tenure.

From Jerusalem, Mr Kerry will head to Brunei from June 30 to July 2 for meetings with Asian leaders including annual Asean-US talks as well as the Asean Rregional Forum and a foreign ministers meeting of the East Asia Summit.

He is due to return to Washington on July 2.