Senator John Kerry, President Barack Obama’s pick for Secretary of State, cruised through his confirmation hearing on Thursday, telling members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that diplomacy was still possible with Iran and that Syria’s Bashar al Assad would be forced out of power soon.
The five-term Democratic senator from Massachusetts, who made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2004, was seen as a shoe-in to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The exchange with the committee, which Kerry chaired for the past four years, was filled with praise for the nominee.
Kerry, 69, said that the United States would do what was necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but defended Obama’s offer for direct talks with Tehran and said negotiations with the Islamic Republic remained a viable option.
He said Tehran must relent and agree to intrusive inspections. “If their programme is peaceful, they can prove it,” he said.
On Syria, he said there was a moment when al Assad had reached out to the West but that the moment had long passed. Kerry visited Damascus repeatedly before the outbreak of Syria’s bloody civil war and once championed re-engagement with Assad.
“That never happened. And it’s now moot, because he has made a set of judgments that are inexcusable, that are reprehensible, and I think is not long for remaining as the head of state in Syria,” he said. “I think the time is ticking.”
During his almost four-hour hearing, Kerry said it was crucial to restart Middle East peace talks, adding that a failure to find a two-state solution would be “disastrous” and that he believed there was a “way forward.” He also vowed to continue engagement with China, admitting difficult challenges on both counts.
More than drones
Kerry stressed that fiscal soundness and soft power were key pillars of American foreign policy.
“Foreign policy is economic policy,” the senator said. “It is urgent that we show people in the rest of the world that we can get our business done in an effective and timely way.”
Sharp disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over taxes and spending havethreatened to set back the US’ struggling economy.
In outlining his views, he said the country’s ability to lead internationally could not rely only on firepower. “American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone.
“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. 11, a role that was thrust upon us.”
A lifelong dream
The Senate will hold a confirmation vote on Kerry on Tuesday. His near-certain approval as the country’s top diplomat would be the realization of a lifelong dream.
The son of a US diplomat, Kerry has long specialized in foreign affairs. A Yale University graduate, he enlisted in the US Navy and served two tours of duty in Vietnam. But he later became a fierce critic of the war, famously telling the same committee in 1971 it was a “mistake”.
During Thursday’s hearing, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee – the top Republican on the panel – said: “I look at you, in being nominated for this, as someone who has almost led their entire life, if you will, for this moment, being able to serve in this capacity.”
Kerry’s appearance before fellow senators was the first of three for Obama’s national security nominees, and the least controversial.
Chuck Hagel, a Republican and the president’s pick for defense secretary, will face tough questions about his past statements on Israel, Iran and defense spending before the Senate Armed Services Committee next week.
John Brennan, Obama’s choice for CIA director, will be quizzed about White House national security leaks and the use of unmanned drones at his hearing next month.