Kerry to keep pressure on Iran


Senator John Kerry urged Congress to fix the US economy to ensure America's role as a world leader and pledged to keep pressure on Iran at a Senate hearing last night that left little doubt he will win easy confirmation as secretary of state.

The five-term US senator and Vietnam War veteran, who was the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee, said the "first priority" in protecting his credibility as a diplomat was the country's ability to get its fiscal house in order.

"Foreign policy is economic policy," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he has chaired for the past four years.

"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." President Barack Obama nominated Mr Kerry last month to replace secretary of state Hillary Clinton, one of the most popular and visible members of his Cabinet.

The Senate will hold a confirmation vote on Mr Kerry on Tuesday, said senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.

The Massachusetts senator was praised by Republicans as well his fellow Democrats during the 3 1/2-hour hearing. Republicans in particular said they appreciated his calls for fiscal order.

"I look at you, in being nominated for this, as someone who has almost 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.

"For a moment I was wishing you had been nominated for secretary of the treasury," Mr Corker quipped.

"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," said Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat presiding over the hearing for the committee.

Mr Kerry stressed his commitment to Mr Obama's policy of seeking a diplomatic solution to persuade Iran to give up its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons. Tehran says its program is solely for peaceful purposes.

"He (Obama) and I prefer a diplomatic resolution to this challenge and I will work to give diplomacy every effort to succeed," Kerry said. "But no one should mistake our resolve to reduce the nuclear threat."

Mr Kerry said "everybody's very hopeful that we can make some progress on the diplomatic front now" and that Mr Obama had made clear his willingness to have direct negotiations with Iran if need be.

Critics have said Kerry failed to seek tougher sanctions to discourage the Islamic Republic from pursuing its nuclear program.

Mr Kerry told Menendez, an ardent advocate of tighter sanctions, that he was "totally" committed to enforcing them.

Mr Kerry also said during the hearing that he would push for a revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, suggesting the US could consider a new peace initiative despite the failure of Mr Obama's first-term efforts.

"We need to try to find a way forward, and I happen to believe that there is a way forward. But I also believe that if we can't be successful, the door, window ... to the possibility of a two-state solution could shut on everybody, and that would be disastrous in my judgment," he said.