LONDON -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday offered praise and a primer in diplomacy to Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom's new foreign secretary.
When the two appeared before reporters after a brief meeting in Johnson's office, Kerry said the U.S. ambassador to the European Union had just been regaling him with tales of his experiences with Johnson while they were at Oxford University together.
The ambassador "told me this man is a very smart and capable man," Kerry said. "That's the Boris Johnson that I intend to work with, and we intend to make good things happen."
Johnson, standing at a lectern with Kerry, uncrossed his arms and adopted a look of modesty, interjecting, "Phew, just stop that."
Then Kerry sidled closer to Johnson and told him, with a wry smile, "It's called diplomacy."
The first bilateral meeting between Kerry and Johnson, which came with the latter's first news conference as foreign secretary, was a friendly but occasionally awkward affair.
Johnson, with his messy, blond hair, made his opening remarks from notes. The tall and silver-coiffed Kerry spoke mostly extemporaneously.
At times, Kerry sounded like an instructor. He went out of his way to recite a long list of crises and challenges before them, including the war in Syria, international terrorism and complex trade deals.
Johnson has made only a few forays into international politics since taking the post -- a meeting with EU officials on Monday and talks with Kerry and European diplomats on Syria and Yemen in London on Tuesday.
Last week, he said that the United States will be "in the front of the queue" for an apology from him, after earlier saying that President Barack Obama's "part-Kenyan" heritage gives him an "ancestral dislike of the British Empire." He also has compared Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, to "a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital."
Johnson bristled when asked whether he wanted to take back his remarks about Obama and Clinton.
"I am afraid there is such a rich thesaurus of things that I have said that have been -- one way or another, through what alchemy I do not know -- somehow misconstrued, that it would really take me too long to engage in a full global itinerary of apology to all concerned," he said.
"I think most people who read these things in their proper context can see exactly what was intended. Everybody I've met in the job so far understands that, particularly on the international scene."
Kerry seemed unsure how to respond when asked whether he had ever met anyone like Johnson before.
"With respect to my colleague now, let me say," he started, "I served 28 years in the United States Senate, a year and a half, two years as lieutenant governor. I was a prosecutor for many years. I ran for president of the United States, and now I have been secretary of state for 31/2 years. I have met everybody in the world like Boris Johnson. Or not. I don't know what you mean by 'like' Boris Johnson."
In his meeting in Brussels with the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council, Johnson delivered the message that Britain leaving the EU -- as it voted to do last month -- did not mean it was abandoning Europe.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who has said Johnson "lied a lot" to rally British voters in his push for the United Kingdom to leave the EU, told reporters that he saw a different Johnson this time around.
"Boris Johnson, I would say, came to this council with some humility," Ayrault said.
There are also indications that his views are changing. Before being appointed foreign secretary, Johnson wrote in a column in The Telegraph newspaper that cooperation with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin was needed to fight the Islamic State militant group in Syria.
He took another tack on Tuesday, before meeting with Kerry and European foreign ministers.
"I will be making clear my view that the suffering of the Syrian people will not end while Assad remains in power," he said in advance remarks released by his office. "The international community, including Russia, must be united."
Kerry, in turn, quoted Winston Churchill's assertion that much can be achieved in tough times by the U.K. and the United States working together, heart in hand.
Kerry said the United States would help the U.K. and the EU make a smooth break.
"In that spirit, I returned to London today to reaffirm our special, unbreakable ties between the United States and Britain," he said. "It's clear no shift in administrations, and I'm speaking for the United States, is going to alter the bonds we have."
A Section on 07/20/2016
Print Headline: Kerry, U.K.'s Johnson meet, step lightly