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United States

US secretary of state nominee Kerry faces Senate

US secretary of state nominee John Kerry has appeared before the Senate for his confirmation hearing. He received lavish praise from his colleagues, and is expected to be nominated without issue.

Kerry, a five-term Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, was showered with bipartisan praise on Thursday during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"I look at you, in being nominated for this, as someone who has led their entire life, if you will, for this moment, being able to serve in this capacity," said Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the panel.

"We're honored to welcome you as the president's nominee for a position you have most-deservedly earned," said New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Mendez, who chaired the hearing. Kerry still is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a position he has held since 2009. He has sat on the committee for 29 years.

"You will need no introduction to the world's political and military leaders, and will begin - on day one - fully conversant not only with the intricacies of US policy, but with an understanding of the nuanced approach necessary," Mendez added.

The lavish praise left little doubt Kerry, who is best known outside the US for his unsuccessful presidential run against George W. Bush in 2004, will easily win confirmation as the next secretary of state, taking over from the outgoing Hillary Clinton.

"I don't want this to affect your opening questions, but let me say I have never seen a more distinguished and better-looking group of public officials in my life," Kerry, 69, said to widespread laughter.

'Fresh thinking'

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, laid out a number of his positions on US foreign policy during the hearing, saying it needed "fresh thinking."

He said that American foreign policy was not just defined by drones and military deployments, but also "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."

Viewed as a foreign affairs specialist in the Senate, Kerry talked about conversations he'd had with Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying an opportunity to steer the country in a different direction had been lost.

"History caught up to us. That never happened. And it's now moot because [Assad] 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."

Kerry also discussed Iran, saying the US would continue to work to stop the country from developing a nuclear weapon.

"I repeat here today: Our policy is not containment. It is prevention and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance," said Kerry. "The president has made it definitive - we will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

dr/pfd (Reuters, AFP, AP)