Sen. John Kerry, Obama's pick for secretary of state, a familiar face on the world stage
WASHINGTON — Sen. John Kerry, President Barack Obama's pick for secretary of state, will need no introduction with the world leaders vital to American interests.
A member of the Foreign Relations Committee for 27 years, the last six as chairman, Kerry has traveled extensively in his capacity as intrepid lawmaker and unofficial envoy for Obama, tamping down diplomatic fires in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt.
When Obama needed someone to persuade Afghan President Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff election, it was Kerry who spent hours consuming tea and taking long walks with Karzai. He has traveled to Egypt four times since the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Obama was expected to announce Friday that he had tapped the 69-year-old Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Kerry was expected to easily win confirmation from his Senate colleagues, even Republicans who ridiculed him eight years ago as a wind-surfing, elitist flip-flopper in his bid for the White House.
Earlier this month, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a friend of Kerry's, jokingly referred to him as "Mr. Secretary."
During his tenure, Kerry has pushed for reducing the number of nuclear weapons, shepherding a U.S.-Russia treaty through the Senate in December 2010, and has cast climate change as a national security threat, joining forces with Republicans on legislation that faced too many obstacles to win congressional passage.
On Libya, Egypt and several other issues, Kerry often has been an early proponent of a more aggressive policy that the administration later embraced. Kerry, along with McCain, was an early backer of using military power to impose a "no-fly zone" over Libya as Moammar Gadhafi's forces attacked Libyan rebels.
Throughout this past election year, Kerry skewered Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, at nearly every opportunity and was a vocal booster for the president's re-election. Kerry memorably told delegates at the Democratic National Convention in August: "Ask Osama bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago."
The selection of Kerry would close a political circle with Obama. In 2004, it was White House hopeful Kerry who asked a largely unknown Illinois state senator to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic convention in Boston, handing the national stage to Obama. Kerry lost that election to President George W. Bush. Four years later, Obama was the White House hopeful who succeeded where Kerry had failed.
Kerry and McCain, defeated presidential candidates who returned to the Senate, have joined forces repeatedly during the past few decades. In July 1995, the two decorated Vietnam War veterans provided political cover to President Bill Clinton when he normalized U.S. relations with Vietnam. Clinton had been dogged by questions about his lack of military service.
Kerry was in Pakistan last year in the midst of a diplomatic crisis after Raymond Davis, a CIA-contracted American spy, was accused of killing two Pakistanis.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to Pakistan around that time and recalled Kerry's influence.
"I arrived in Islamabad, I think, five days after Ray Davis had been taken into a jail in the Punjab and was at very real risk of being hauled out of the jail and lynched," Coons said. "Sen. Kerry was about to show up and negotiate on behalf of the administration. And it was clear that both the diplomats and the military folks we met with viewed him as a real man of credibility and experience who was likely to contribute meaningfully to those negotiations."
Davis pleaded self-defense. After weeks of wrangling between the U.S. and Pakistan, he was released in exchange for "blood money" paid to the dead men's relatives.
This year, Kerry has presided over committee hearings on treaties and other major issues, but there has been little legislative work. He didn't draw much attention to the committee, avoiding possible embarrassments for the administration in an election year.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is in line to be the top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, said he would have liked for the committee to devote more time to events in Libya, Syria and other countries.
"I think he's tried to accommodate our concerns and at the same time seek a balance ... giving the administration the headroom they needed to do what he and the administration felt was best. I understand that," he said, speaking of Kerry.
Donna Cassata can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DonnaCassataAP
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