Sen. John Kerry stressed the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as he described the “immediate, dangerous challenges” for the nation that he will deal with if confirmed as secretary of state.
“The president has made it definitive -- we will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Kerry said in testimony today to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And I repeat here today: our policy is not containment. It is prevention, and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance.”
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Kerry appeared before the Senate committee he has headed as chairman since 2009. Republican colleagues predicted in advance of the hearing that he will easily win Senate confirmation to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
He was introduced at the hearing by Clinton, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Clinton described Kerry as the “right choice” for the job she is leaving after four years, and McCain offered support “without reservation” for his fellow Vietnam War veteran.
In his opening remarks, Kerry urged lawmakers to address domestic economic issues such as the deficit, saying a strong economy undergirds strength overseas.
“I am especially cognizant of the fact that we can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home,” he said.
Kerry said the U.S. is seeking, as President Barack Obama said in his inaugural address, to move beyond the decade of war.
“President Obama and every one of us here knows that American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone,” Kerry said. “We cannot allow the extraordinary good we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role we have had to play since Sept. 11th, a role that was thrust upon us.”
American foreign policy is also defined by food security and energy security, humanitarian assistance, the fight against disease and the push for development “as much as it is by any single counterterrorism initiative,” he said.
“It is defined by leadership on life-threatening issues like climate change, or fighting to lift up millions of lives by promoting freedom and democracy from Africa to the Americas or speaking out for the prisoners of gulags in North Korea or millions of refugees and displaced persons and victims of human trafficking,” Kerry said.“It is defined by keeping faith with all that our troops have sacrificed to secure for Afghanistan.”
On Iran, Kerry said the administration hopes for a “diplomatic solution” that ensures any Iranian nuclear activities are for civilian use only.
In response to a question from Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who ran the hearing, Kerry said that Iran can do what many countries do to comply with international nonproliferation accords.
“If their program is peaceful, they can prove it,” Kerry said, adding that the U.S. is willing to hold bilateral talks with Iran as well as the current six-power negotiations.
Kerry had met in the past with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an effort to encourage an opening by the Syrian regime toward the West. Now, Kerry said, Assad has made “reprehensible” decisions and he predicted Assad is “not long for remaining” as Syria’s leader.
Kerry said relations with Russia have “slid backwards a little bit in the last couple of years,” citing Russia’s halt to U.S. adoptions as one example. Still, he said that Russia is cooperating on a number of issues such as Iran and U.S-Russia nuclear arms reductions.
From Afghanistan and Pakistan to Sudan and China, Kerry, 69, has made at least 30 trips abroad over the past four years, often serving as an unofficial special envoy for the Obama administration.
“He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training,” Obama said Dec. 21, noting Kerry’s considerable international travel and familiarity with foreign leaders.
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who first became known nationally as a critic of that war, has been steeped in foreign policy issues throughout his career. Traits Republicans ridiculed in his failed presidential campaign in 2004 -- his patrician manner, his fine-grained parsing of language, even his occasional tendency to lapse into French to choose the mot juste -- may wear well on the international diplomatic circuit.
On foreign policy, Kerry shares Obama’s preference for working through multinational alliances and for avoiding open- ended engagement, such as the Iraq war they both opposed. Kerry’s approach to U.S. intervention abroad has been reflected by his comments on the war in Syria, in which he has shared Obama’s reluctance about direct military involvement.
Kerry and Obama have political bonds dating to 2004, when the senator gave Obama his breakthrough opportunity as the keynote speaker at the Democratic convention that nominated Kerry for president. The speech turned Obama, a state senator from Illinois running for the U.S. Senate, into a national political star.
In 2008, Kerry backed Obama over front-runner Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries, only to see Obama choose Clinton as his first-term secretary of state. In last year’s presidential campaign, Obama prepared for debates with Kerry playing the role of Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
After graduating from Yale University, Kerry volunteered for the Navy. In two tours of duty in Vietnam, he rose to the rank of lieutenant and served on a Swift Boat that traveled treacherous river deltas. He was decorated with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
Kerry came to see the war he fought as futile, and on his return to the U.S. he became a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Kerry famously said in April 1971, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he would one day lead.
Kerry made an unsuccessful bid for a House seat from Massachusetts the following year, then worked as a prosecutor before being elected lieutenant governor in 1982 and senator in 1984.
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Largely because of the wealth of his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Kerry is one of the richest members of Congress. His net worth was at least $181.5 million in 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
Kerry became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2009, when Joe Biden left the post to become Obama’s vice president. At the Capitol, Kerry worked with the Foreign Relations panel’s then-top Republican, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, on issues such as a strategic arms control treaty with Russia that they ushered through the chamber in December 2010.
Kerry tried unsuccessfully to push through the Senate legislation intended to curb global climate change, a topic Obama set out as a priority in his inaugural address Jan 21.
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