Kerry attends confirmation hearing


US Senator John Kerry said at his confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of state today that the top US priority should be getting its fiscal house in order.

"Foreign policy is economic policy," he said. "It is urgent that we show people in the rest of the world that we can get our business done in an effective and timely way."

Mr Kerry, a Democrat and long-standing member of the Senate from Massachusetts, also staked out a firm position on Iran, saying that he was committed to seeking a diplomatic solution over Iran's nuclear program but alluding to the option to use military force if a negotiated solution could not be reached.

"Our policy is not containment," he said. "It is prevention, and the clock is ticking."

Mr Kerry received a friendly reception from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the panel he has led for the past four years. Secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, who yesterday delivered an impassioned defence of her handling of a deadly attack in September on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, in testimony before the committee, made a return appearance to introduce her likely successor.

"John is the right choice," Ms Clinton said. "He has been a valued partner to this administration and to me personally."

Mr Kerry also received a warm endorsement from Senator John McCain, who, like Mr Kerry, served in Vietnam - an experience that has been a bond between them in their time in the Senate.

"Senator Kerry and I spent some time, at the Navy's behest, in a certain Southeast Asian country," Mr McCain said. But that did not stop him from criticising the policies of the administration that Mr Kerry hopes to join.

He began his questions by assailing Ms Clinton's testimony on Benghazi and complaining that the Obama administration had not answered important questions on the security lapses.

Turning to Syria, which he said should be the administration's highest foreign policy priority, Mr McCain urged the administration to provide arms to Syrian rebels and noted that the number of refugees was growing.

"We can do a lot more without putting American boots on the ground," he said.

"I have complete understanding of where you are coming from on this," Mr Kerry responded.

Mr Kerry said he wanted to "find some track to change the calculations of Assad," a reference to Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, and he signalled that he wanted to have a broader dialogue with Congress on policy options on Syria.

"We are going to have to get our heads together regardless of party," Mr Kerry said.

New York Times