Kerry tackles questions on Iran, Syria, Hagel

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 24, 2013 at 7:30 pm •  Published: January 24, 2013
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Kerry said there was a moment where Syria reached out to the West but that the moment has long passed.

"History caught up to us. That never happened. And it's now moot, because he 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," the senator said. "I think the time is ticking."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a fierce critic of Obama's policy on Syria, said the status quo is unacceptable with the United Nations estimating that 60,000 have been killed and the heavy influx of refugees in Jordan and Turkey.

After a recent visit to the refugee camps, McCain warned that Syrians frustrated with the U.S. response will be a recruitment target for extremists.

"We can do a lot more without putting American boots on the ground," McCain said. "Otherwise, we will be judged harshly by history."

Kerry said it was imperative to continue discussions with Russia and others in dealing with Syria but that "I don't have optimism."

Menendez noted that Kerry, if confirmed, would be the first senator on the panel in a century to ascend to the Cabinet post. President William McKinley appointed Ohio Sen. John Sherman secretary of state.

The job of the nation's top diplomat would be the realization of a dream for the 69-year-old Kerry, whom Obama passed over in 2008 when he chose Clinton. When Joe Biden became vice president, Kerry replaced the former Delaware senator as chairman of the committee.

Obama nominated Kerry after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, removed her name from consideration following criticism from Republicans over her initial comments about the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Corker told Kerry, "You've almost lived your entire life for this moment."

The Vietnam War, a long, bitter conflict that took its toll on a generation of draft-age American men, played a prominent role at the hearing.

In his testimony, Kerry alluded to his controversial moment before the committee some 42 years ago, when the decorated Vietnam veteran testified about his opposition to the war and famously asked, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

"Today I can't help but recognize that the world itself then was in many ways simpler, divided as it was along bi-polar, Cold War antagonisms," Kerry said. "Today's world is more complicated than anything we have experienced."

McCain, who also introduced Kerry, said their friendship took root with their work on a committee seeking to resolve the status of POWs and missing in action from Vietnam as well as efforts to ensure normal U.S. relations with Vietnam during President Bill Clinton's administration.

"Helping to establish a relationship with Vietnam that serves American interests and values, rather than one that remained mired in mutual resentment and bitterness, is one of my proudest accomplishments as a senator, and I expect it is one of John's as well," McCain said.

The hearing is the first of three for Obama's national security nominees, and the least controversial. Hagel will face tough questions about his past statements on Israel, Iran, nuclear weapons and defense spending at his confirmation hearing next Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. John Brennan, the president's choice for CIA director, will be quizzed about White House national security leaks and the use of unmanned drones at his hearing next month.

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