Kerry’s Vatican Shuttle Flies Before Sunrise

Photograph by Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Amman on March 26, 2014.

Updated at 6:50 am EDT, March 27

Secretary of State John Kerry flew from Rome to Amman, Jordan, for dinner and talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The last-minute schedule shift headed off a potential breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Yet he was headed again to his plane before sunrise today in order to get back to Rome in time to join President Barack Obama’s meeting with Pope Francis this morning.

Frequent-flier Kerry, the first Roman Catholic secretary of state since Edmund Muskie, was pushing even his limits — and his air crew’s — to make sure he didn’t miss out on the appointment at the Vatican.

Kerry used the perks of his post — a U.S. Air Force jet at his disposal and police-escorted motorcades — to make it to Rome in time to join Obama’s first audience with the new pope.

After meeting until almost midnight with Abbas in Jordan, Kerry, 70, left the Amman Marriott at 5 a.m. local time in a motorcade heading to the airport under a bright crescent moon. He climbed aboard his Air Force C-32A jet, a modified Boeing 757-200, for the three-hour flight to Rome as the eastern horizon was starting to brighten.

The final hurdle in his 1,500 mile journey was Rome’s notorious traffic, though his motorcade made it to  the U.S. ambassador’s residence, the fifteenth century Villa Taverna, an hour before it was time to head to Vatican City.

A dozen Swiss guards, their uniforms designed by Michelangelo, awaited the arriving Americans at the Vatican this morning. Kerry followed the president and members of the White House and National Security Council staff past the guards.

Obama entered the Small Throne Room and then the Papal Library for a greeting by the pontiff.

The private meeting started at 10:27 am Rome time — three minutes ahead of Obama’s schedule.

The president and the pope met for eight minutes shy of an hour.

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