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Kerry on Europe farewell tour to reassure US allies

[BERLIN] US Secretary of State John Kerry kicked off a European farewell tour Monday, six weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump whose shock victory has deeply unsettled the continent.

The top American diplomat is visiting Germany and Brussels, seat of the EU and Nato, to stress the importance of transatlantic ties before he and the rest of President Barack Obama's administration hand over to the Trump team on Jan 20.

Mr Trump has vowed to rip up key diplomatic achievements reached under Kerry - from the Iran nuclear deal to a trans-Pacific trade pact - and was this week looking for a successor at the helm of the State Department.

Mr Kerry started his trip in Berlin, where he and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier were to discuss ongoing crises, from the Syria and Ukraine conflicts to Yemen and Libya, as well as upcoming Nato and OSCE ministerial meetings.

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In the evening Mr Kerry was to receive the German Cross of Merit from Steinmeier, for their close cooperation in areas from climate change to countering the Islamic State group.

On Tuesday in Brussels, Mr Kerry joins a two-day Nato foreign ministers' meeting which, a US diplomat said, aims to boost efforts "to strengthen Nato's security, to project stability to the alliance's east and south, and to strengthen Nato-EU cooperation".

Yet partners will also seek clarity after Mr Trump has suggested Washington might think twice about coming to the rescue of a Nato ally under threat if it had not paid its dues to the alliance.

On Wednesday Mr Kerry will travel to the northern German city of Hamburg for a two-day foreign ministers' meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), hosted by Mr Steinmeier.

The meeting of the 57-member OSCE will address concerns especially in eastern Europe about the threat posed by Russia after its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

Also in Hamburg will be Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Mr Kerry's counterpart amid tensions over the Ukraine conflict and the Syrian war, where Moscow backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

A State Department official said Mr Kerry "will emphasise the need for all 57 (member states) to uphold and implement OSCE principles and commitments, including on human rights and military security".

Meanwhile, back in the United States, Mr Trump's team was Monday searching for a candidate to replace Mr Kerry, as the president-elect has been firing off diplomatic broadsides on Twitter, including one accusing China of military expansionism and currency manipulation.

Whoever becomes the nominee to succeed Mr Kerry, said senior aide Kellyanne Conway, must be ready to "implement and adhere to the president-elect's America First foreign policy, if you will, his view of the world".

Mr Kerry, speaking on Sunday at a Washington think-tank, said he was "working to stay a thousand miles away from the Trump transition and the process".

Asked whether the Trump team had sought State Department input so far as it has made contact with foreign leaders, Mr Kerry said "we have not been contacted before any of these conversations. We have not been requested to provide talking points".