Obama opts for Kerry as next secretary of state to replace Clinton, say sources

Mon, Dec 17, 2012, 00:00

President Barack Obama has decided to nominate senator John Kerry as the next secretary of state, to replace Hillary Clinton, according to two major news outlets. An announcement is possible before Christmas.

Mr Kerry, a senior ranking Democrat who ran for the White House in 2004, emerged as favourite after US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice withdrew from contention. That speculation hardened over the weekend, with ABC and CNN reporting that Mr Obama had opted for Kerry.

His appointment would require Mr Kerry to resign from the senate, and a special election to be held by the summer. His replacement as Democratic candidate would almost certainly face a strong challenge from former Republican senator Scott Brown, who lost the other Massachusetts seat to Elizabeth Warren in November.

Mr Kerry, who is chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, is in the classic diplomatic mould, with decades of experience in foreign policy and a desire to be engaged in the big issues of the day, from Syria to Iran. While Mrs Clinton also wanted to be involved in the major issues of the day, she also pursued single, universal issues such as championing women’s rights.

Inner circle

Conventional thinking in Washington has it that Mrs Clinton has never been close to Mr Obama and has tended to be excluded from decision-making on major issues such as Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although she played an important part in shaping policy on Libya.

Likewise, Mr Kerry is not thought to be part of Mr Obama’s inner circle. But he will harbour hopes of not being left on the sidelines, having been used by the president as an envoy to resolve awkward issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unlike Ms Rice, Mr Kerry, as a senator, can expect a smooth nomination process.

The vacancy in Massachusetts could prompt infighting among Democrats for a plum senate seat in what is normally one of the safest Democratic states. But Mr Brown’s surprise 2010 victory in the state, following the death of Ted Kennedy, offers the Republicans hope for another upset. The special election would have to take place within 145 to 160 days of Mr Kerry’s resignation. The winner would then complete the remaining year and a half of Mr Kerry’s term, before facing re-election in 2014.

Another place on Mr Obama’s diplomatic and national security team could be filled by the appointment of former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, as defence secretary – a move that would help Mr Obama portray his cabinet as bipartisan. But his appointment could provoke a backlash from some pro-Israeli groups.

Passionate advocate

Mr Hagel has long been an advocate of the US taking a more balanced approach towards the Israelis and Arabs. He is also a passionate advocate of direct US negotiations with Iranian leaders over the nuclear issue. During the Bush presidency he publicly opposed air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. Mr Hagel has emerged as one of the front runners to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. “I don’t know who else is in contention but he is a contender,” said a source who knows Mr Hagel. Bloomberg News disclosed on Thursday that Mr Hagel had been vetted for the job. – (Guardian service)