Sen. John F. Kerry breezed through the hearing Thursday on his nomination as the Obama administration's new secretary of state, facing few tough questions and vowing to mind the image the U.S. projects in a post-9/11 world.
He is likely to be approved easily by the Foreign Relations Committee and soon thereafter by the full Senate, taking over from Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is retiring after four years at the helm of the department.
Mr. Kerry portrayed himself as a staunch advocate of American power, but also a statesman concerned about America's image as an empire too eager to resort to military tactics in a "complicated and ever more dangerous world."
"Every one of us here knows that American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone," the Massachusetts Democrat told the committee during four hours of hearings.
"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."
The hearing opened with a bipartisan bang, when Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, appeared alongside Mrs. Clinton and freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, to formally introduce Mr. Kerry to the panel.
"He and I have been friends for quite a long time now," said Mr. McCain, who added that while he and Mr. Kerry have had "political differences" over the years, their friendship is "based in mutual respect."
"I commend his nomination to you without reservation," Mr. McCain said.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee's ranking Republican, said he thinks Mr. Kerry's "confirmation will go through very, very quickly."
Mr. Kerry homed in on Iran during the hearing, saying the U.S. has an "extraordinary interest" in stopping the global proliferation of nuclear weapons. He said that includes trying to "resolve the questions surrounding Iran's nuclear program."
"The president has made it definitive: We will do what we must do to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Mr. Kerry said. "I repeat here today: Our policy is not containment. It is prevention. And the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance."
On Syria, he defended his belief that Syrian President Bashar Assad had the potential to be a reformer before he began using his army against his own citizens in a civil war that has killed an estimated 60,000 people.
Mr. Kerry's shifting positions on Syria have bothered some senators — especially Republicans who criticize the Obama administration for failing to do more to support Syrian rebels fighting for Mr. Assad's ouster.
On Thursday, Mr. Kerry recalled a visit to Syria during which "President Assad said to me, 'I have 500,000 kids who turn 18 every year, and I don't have a place to put them.'"
Mr. Assad, said Mr. Kerry, wanted to make changes and try to reach "some kind of an accommodation" with the West.
"It's now moot because [Mr. Assad] has made a set of judgments that are inexcusable, that are reprehensible and, I think, [he] is not long for remaining as the head of state in Syria," Mr. Kerry said.
He also faced tough questions about the attack last year on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The attack raised questions about the department's security arrangements, and Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who on Wednesday pointedly questioned Mrs. Clinton's handling of the incident, asked Mr. Kerry his thoughts.
"Senator, if you're trying to get some daylight between me and Secretary Clinton, that's not going to happen," Mr. Kerry responded.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, accused Mr. Kerry of flip-flopping on whether the Constitution prevents a president from authorizing military attacks without congressional approval.
Mr. Kerry supported President Obama's 2011 deployment of American forces to run a no-fly zone over Libya, though he opposed the tactic decades ago with regard to U.S. bombings of Vietnam and Cambodia.
"Look," responded Mr. Kerry, "you can be absolutist and apply it to every circumstance. The problem is it just doesn't work in some instances."
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