Kerry Warns Iran as Senate Schedules Confirmation Vote

U.S. Senator 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 yesterday 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.”

Kerry appeared before the Senate panel he has headed as chairman since 2009. Republican colleagues predicted before the hearing that he would easily win Senate confirmation to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The chamber is scheduled to vote on his nomination on Jan. 29, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said late yesterday.

Kerry 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.

During a largely friendly four-hour hearing, Kerry was asked about the challenges that will likely consume much of his tenure should he be confirmed. The committee hasn’t announced the date for a vote on his nomination which, if approved, would advance to the full Senate for confirmation.

Policy Challenges

The Massachusetts Democrat discussed the prospects for stability in Afghanistan and the scheduled 2014 withdrawal of American troops, greater U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war, and the fallout from the Libyan revolution, as arms from that conflict fall into the hands of North African terrorist groups.

Several senators raised questions about the U.S. relationship with Russia, both in terms of cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and on resolving the Syrian conflict. Others probed for Kerry’s views on China as an economic competitor as well as an increasing military presence in the Pacific region.

In the wake of Israeli elections that gave centrists a boost, Kerry told Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake that his “prayer is that this could be a moment” when it’s possible to restart peace talks.

“President Obama is deeply committed to a two-state solution,” Kerry told the committee, linking the conflict to many other U.S. goals in the Middle East.

“We need to find a way forward,” Kerry said. If that doesn’t happen “the results would be disastrous in my judgment.”

‘Prove It’

On Iran, Kerry said the administration hopes for a “diplomatic solution.” 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 said the legitimacy of Afghan elections in early 2014 will be crucial to U.S. plans to pull most troops from the country next year.

“If it doesn’t have legitimacy, if we don’t succeed in that effort, it’s going to be very, very difficult to convince the American people” and U.S. allies to stay engaged, Kerry said.

‘Reap the Whirlwind’

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.

McCain said the U.S. failure to get more deeply involved in the Syrian conflict will have serious repercussions.

“We are sowing the wind in Syria and we’re going to reap the whirlwind,” he said, referring to Islamic radical groups involved in the fighting there.

Kerry said relations with Russia have “slid backward a little bit in the last couple of years,” citing Russia’s halt to U.S. adoptions as one example. Still, he said Russia is cooperating on a number of issues such as Iran and nuclear arms reductions.

On China, Kerry highlighted the competition for resources. “China is all over Africa -- I mean, all over Africa -- and they’re buying up long-term contracts on minerals,” he said. “And there’re some places where we’re not in the game, folks.”

‘Economic Statecraft’

Throughout, Kerry spoke about the need to focus on the “economic statecraft” that Clinton emphasized during her tenure, promoting U.S. business.

In his opening remarks, Kerry urged lawmakers to address domestic economic issues such as the deficit, saying a strong economy undergirds strength overseas. 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 September 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.

World Traveler

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.

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.

Vietnam Legacy

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. 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.

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.

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