Kerry calls for 'fresh thinking'

2013-01-24 20:48

Washington - Senator John Kerry called for "fresh thinking" and US leadership around the globe on Thursday, winning a warm welcome from the lawmakers expected to back him as the next secretary of state.

"American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone," he told his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

"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 counter terrorism initiative."

Kerry - best known outside the US for his unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign - has been tapped by President Barack Obama to take over from Hillary Clinton.

During her four-year term, Clinton travelled almost a million miles, and visited 112 countries, aiming to restore America's image abroad, after it was left badly damaged by the era of former president George W Bush.

Sitting across from the committee which he has been a member of for 29 years, and which he has chaired since 2009, Kerry joked that he suddenly felt some sympathy for the dozens of people he has grilled over the years.

Clinton, along with veteran Senator John McCain, stepped up to introduce Kerry and called him "the right choice, to carry forward the Obama administration's foreign policy and I urge his speedy confirmation”.

McCain added: "I know he will acquit himself in that office with distinction and use his many talents and his indefatigable persistence to advance our country's interests."

Kerry, 69, is known to have long coveted the job, and he is expected to sail through his hearing.

But he almost lost out to US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, who had been seen as Obama's first choice until she withdrew under Republican fire over the administration's response to an attack on a US mission in Libya.

Addressing members of a bitterly divided Congress, Kerry said he wanted to work with both Democrats and Republicans to confront the challenges facing them across the world.

"I'm already excited by the many ways that we can work together and in which we must work together in order to advance America's security interests in a complicated and ever more dangerous world," he told the committee.

But he choked up when he described how his love of world affairs was forged as a child, following his diplomat father around the globe to different posts.

Personal journey

Kerry described "a personal journey that brought home the sacrifices and the commitment the men and women of the foreign service make every day on behalf of America."

The decorated Vietnam veteran turned anti-war activist was the Democratic candidate for the White House in 2004.

But he failed to unseat Bush after running a lacklustre campaign in which he was bombarded by dubious ads attacking his military service.

But, as a top senator specialising in foreign affairs, Kerry has sat down with Syrian President Bashar Assad, soothed nerves in Pakistan and visited the Gaza Strip, winning the respect of fellow Democrats and Republicans alike.

He told senators he felt an opportunity to steer Syria in a different direction had been lost, when Assad discussed with him the concerns of a burgeoning young population.

"You know, he wanted to try to find some way to reach out to the West and see if there was some kind of an accommodation," Kerry said.

"History caught up to us. That never happened. And it's now moot because he has made a set of judgments that are inexcusable, that is reprehensible and, I think, is not long for remaining as the head of state in Syria."

Need for diplomacy

Kerry also vowed that the US would work to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

He emphasised the continued need for diplomacy, but said there would be no policy of containment.

"The president has made it definitive - we will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he said, adding "the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance."

Echoing Obama's inauguration speech on Monday, Kerry also highlighted climate change as a top foreign policy.

But he set as a top priority the need for America to restore its economy.

"The first priority of business which will affect my credibility as a diplomat working to help other countries create order, is whether America at last puts its own fiscal house in order," he insisted.

He also vowed to maintain some of the programmes championed by Clinton such as the state department's emphasis on women's rights around the world.