State Department officials said Monday that Secretary of State John Kerry’s broken leg wouldn’t affect the June 30 deadline for an Iranian nuclear deal and that he’d continue to play a lead role in the high-stakes negotiations, even if from a hospital bed.
En route to Boston for treatment a day after breaking his right femur, or thigh bone, in a bicycle accident in France, Kerry posted an upbeat-sounding tweet saying he was looking forward to getting back to State Department business and that “work goes on.” He ended the posting with “#Onward.”
It’s in the State Department’s interest to portray a strong, hearty secretary who’ll be back on the job in no time – Kerry is under intense pressure to deliver a comprehensive Iranian nuclear deal for a U.S. administration that’s desperate for a foreign policy victory. Since the accident, officials said, Kerry has spoken by phone with President Barack Obama and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as well as the foreign ministers of France and Spain to convey his regrets for missing meetings with them this week in Europe.
“The secretary has made clear that he’s going to pursue an aggressive but responsible recovery schedule,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
The rosy assessments offered by government spokespeople, however, skimmed over the uncomfortable questions surrounding the incident: What’s the recovery time for a 71-year-old man who’s already had hip replacements? Will painkillers hamper his ability to perform his duties? And how long will Kerry, known as an indefatigable traveler, be prevented from hopping continents?
At the daily briefing, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said those questions were best left to Kerry’s orthopedic surgeon, Dennis Burke, who flew to Switzerland to accompany the secretary on the flight back to Boston. Burke performed Kerry’s earlier hip surgeries.
Harf said that Kerry, who’s traveling on a U.S. military C-17 transport plane staffed with extra medical personnel, must undergo further evaluation and an operation before there would be a good idea of recovery time.
Medical literature on such an injury says it can take months to heal from a femur fracture, longer if the patient is elderly. Harf warned against speculation about recovery times without knowing details of Kerry’s health.
“The secretary is committed to pursuing an aggressive recovery schedule,” she said. “There are a range of possible recovery trajectories with an injury like this, and it’s, quite frankly, premature to speculate on the specifics of what that recovery will look like.”
Harf offered little elaboration on the accident, which occurred Sunday morning in the French Alpine village of Scionzier. She said Kerry, an avid cyclist, was taking advantage of a few free hours after Iranian nuclear talks in Geneva to ride along the picturesque Col de la Colombiere mountain pass, which has been part of the Tour de France route. He was at the beginning of his ride when he crashed and wasn’t going exceptionally fast, Harf said.
“He hit a curb and fell pretty hard,” Harf said, declining to provide further details. She said reports that gravel contributed to the accident were untrue.
After the accident, Kerry was flown to a hospital in Geneva. He’d planned on flying right back to Boston for treatment but ended up staying overnight in Switzerland as a precaution, the State Department announced.
When asked whether Kerry expected to be “in the room” if an Iran deal is reached on time, Harf sounded optimistic: “I believe he does, yes.” She said she wouldn’t speculate on venues when asked whether there was talk of the Iranian negotiators coming to the United States if Kerry were unable to travel later this month.
Harf emphasized repeatedly that the injury would have no bearing on the timetable for the nuclear talks with Iran.
“To be very clear, the secretary is absolutely committed to moving forward with the negotiations, to proceeding with them on the exact same timetable as before his accident,” she said.
Anita Kumar contributed to this report.