BARACK Obama yesterday nominated John Kerry as his next secretary of state, the first move in an overhaul of the US president’s national security team since his re-election.
Mr Kerry is expected to take the helm at the State Department after the departure of Hillary Clinton, who had already announced she would leave early next year. Mr Kerry is expected to be quickly approved for the Cabinet post by his congressional colleagues.
His nomination could bring to a close what has become for the White House a contentious and distracting effort to find a new secretary of state.
United Nations’ ambassador Susan Rice, the previous favourite for the job, faced harsh criticism from Republicans for her initial comments on the deadly September attack on Americans in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, in which ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.
Mr Obama had defended Ms Rice, a close friend and adviser, but Republican senators threatened to hold up her nomination if put forward.
She withdrew last week, with sources within the administration indicating growing support for Mr Kerry.
He was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, narrowly losing to George W Bush. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran who was critical of the war when he returned, even testifying in front of the Senate committee he eventually chaired.
The Cabinet nomination of Mr Kerry, 69, is the first Mr Obama has made since winning a second term, and the first piece in an extensive shuffle of his national security team. The president is also expected to nominate a new defence secretary to take over from retiring Leon Panetta and a new director of the Central Intelligence Agency to replace former spy chief General David Petraeus, who resigned last month after admitting an extra-marital affair.
The White House had hoped to introduce Mr Obama’s national security team in a single announcement. But those plans were scrapped as the “fiscal cliff” negotiations consumed the administration and questions arose about the front-runner for the Pentagon post, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. Mr Hagel has been dogged by questions about his support for Israel and where he stands on gay rights, with critics calling on him to repudiate a comment in 1998 that a former ambassadorial nominee was “openly, aggressively gay.”
As the nation’s top diplomat, Mr Kerry will both execute and shape Mr Obama’s approach to foreign policy. The senator offered some insight into his world view on Thursday during a Senate foreign relations committee hearing he chaired on the deadly September attack on a consulate in Benghazi.
Mr Kerry called on Congress to put more money into foreign policy which he said was an investment “in our long-term security and more often than not it saves far more expensive expenditures in dollars and lives for the conflicts that we failed to see or avoid”.
He also emphasised the importance of diplomats being able to work freely in places like Benghazi, despite its dangers.
“There will always be a tension between the diplomatic imperative to get ‘outside the wire’ and the security standards that require our diplomats to work behind high walls,” he said.
“Our challenge is to strike a balance between the necessity of the mission, available resources and tolerance for risk.”
Mr Kerry, the son of a diplomat, has long sought the post. Mr Obama considered him for the job after the 2008 election before picking Mrs Clinton, his defeated rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, in a surprise move.