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Kerry warns Iran in Senate testimony

Bipartisan support for confirmation

Sen. John Kerry stressed the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as he described the “immediate, dangerous challenges” for the nation that he will deal with if confirmed as secretary of state.

“The president has made it definitive – we will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Kerry said in testimony yesterday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And I repeat here today: our policy is not containment. It is prevention, and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance.”

Kerry appeared before the Senate committee he has headed as chairman since 2009. Republican colleagues predicted in advance of the hearing that he will easily win Senate confirmation to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

He was introduced at the hearing by Clinton, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Clinton described Kerry as the “right choice” for the job she is leaving after four years, and McCain offered support “without reservation” for his fellow Vietnam War veteran.

During a largely friendly four-hour hearing, Kerry was asked about the challenges that will likely consume much of his tenure should he be confirmed. The committee hasn’t announced the date for a vote on his nomination which, if approved, would advance to the full Senate for confirmation.

The Massachusetts Democrat discussed the prospects for stability in Afghanistan and the scheduled 2014 withdrawal of American troops, greater U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war, and the fallout from the Libyan revolution, as arms from that conflict fall to North African terrorist groups.

Several senators raised questions about the U.S. relationship with Russia, both in terms of cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and on resolving the Syrian conflict. Others probed for Kerry’s views on China as an economic competitor as well as an increasing military presence in the Pacific region.

In the wake of Israeli elections that gave centrists a boost, Kerry told Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake that his “prayer is that this could be a moment” when it’s possible to restart peace talks.

“President Obama is deeply committed to a two-state solution,” Kerry told the committee, linking the conflict to many other U.S. goals in the Mideast.

“We need to find a way forward,” Kerry said. If that doesn’t happen “the results would be disastrous in my judgment.”

On Iran, Kerry said the administration hopes for a “diplomatic solution.” In response to a question from Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who ran the hearing, Kerry said that Iran can do what many countries do to comply with international nonproliferation accords.

“If their program is peaceful, they can prove it,” Kerry said, adding that the U.S. is willing to hold bilateral talks with Iran as well as the current six-power negotiations.

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