STATE DEPARTMENT — President Obama's choice as the next secretary of state said Iran must comply with inspections of its nuclear facilities. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry testified before congressional colleagues as part of the process to confirm him as America's top diplomat.
Senator Kerry enjoys broad bipartisan support. So the hearing was less about him getting the job and more about what he will do with it. He said the first priority for U.S. diplomacy is resolving the country's domestic budget crisis.
"It is hard to tell the leadership of a number of countries that they have to deal with the IMF, balance their budget and create economic order where there is none if we do not provide it for ourselves," he said.
Senator Kerry said the United States must confront immediate challenges, including terrorism and the threat from Iran's nuclear program. Iran says its program is peaceful. Senator Kerry said it is easy enough to prove with inspections.
"We will do what we must do to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he said. "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."
After nearly 30 years in Congress, Kerry is well known in much of the world, both with longtime allies and leaders who Washington opposes. He said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has missed his chance for peaceful change.
Senator Marco Rubio said it is time to settle on a comprehensive strategy for Syria. "I think it was in our national interest to help an opposition forum organize itself," he said.
"We have been so disorganized in our involvement in Syria that now we are at a point where the opposition in Syria when they win, and they will win, are just as angry at us as they once were at Russia, China, and Iran and the other nations that stood with Assad," Rubio added.
Kerry said a precipitous collapse holds risks for Syria's neighbors, including Israel. "If you have a complete implosion of the state, nobody has clear definition of how you put those pieces back together, number one," he said. "And number two, you have a much greater risk with respect to chemical weapons."
Senator Kerry is one of America's wealthiest lawmakers and has already vowed to divest extensive financial holdings in companies that could prove a conflict of interest to the nation's top diplomat. Brooking Institution scholar Michael O'Hanlon said his world view fits well with the president's.
"I think for the most part, Kerry and Obama are pretty well aligned. They're both pragmatic," he said."They have some bigger, broader ambitions and they have to do with things like making headway on energy and climate change questions or relations with the Islamic world. But they're fundamentally pragmatic in knowing how hard it is to make headway on that sort of thing."
O'Hanlon expects that Senator Kerry will help President Obama in much the same way Hillary Clinton has. He said, "Hillary got along better with the Israelis than President Obama did. Same thing for John Kerry, who has a pretty good relationship with Netanyahu, among others."
"Kerry has also done OK in Afghanistan and Pakistan," O'Hanlo said. "And I think President Obama has put a lot of his resources, or the country's resources there during his tenure, but he's had a hard time developing close personal connections with any of the leaders there. Kerry is probably a little better at that."
Senator Kerry said it is time for a new U.S. role in the world, where young people are "rebelling against years of disenfranchisement and humiliation."