John Kerry’s confirmation hearing on Thursday to become secretary of state recalled an unusual American life — son of a diplomat, Navy officer who volunteered for Vietnam, anti-war protester, five-term Democratic senator from Massachusetts, unsuccessful nominee for president and President Obama’s unofficial envoy.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is stepping down after four years, introduced Kerry at the hearing, calling him “the right choice.” A Senate vote on the nomination will take place Tuesday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

Kerry: Top U.S. priority is shaping up our fiscal house

  • Article by: MICHAEL R. GORDON
  • New York Times
  • January 24, 2013 - 9:44 PM

WASHINGTON - Sen. John Kerry said at his confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of state on Thursday that the top U.S. 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."

A day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton jousted with Republican members of the panel, Kerry received a generally friendly reception from the committee he led for the past four years.

Sen. John McCain, a fellow Vietnam veteran who has been critical of the Obama administration's handling of the September attack in Benghazi, Libya, and of its policy on Syria, endorsed Kerry before he began to testify.

In a nearly four-hour hearing, Kerry displayed his familiarity with a broad range of issues but presented no new ideas on how to make headway on the vexing foreign policy problems that he will inherit if he is confirmed, as expected.

'The clock is ticking'

On Iran, Kerry said he was committed to seeking a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program, while 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."

On Syria, Kerry defended his effort to engage President Bashar Assad during the early months of the Obama administration, asserting that Syria's growing population gave it a reason to seek better ties with the United States. "He wanted to try to find some way to reach out to the West and see if there was some kind of an accommodation," Kerry said of Assad. "History caught up to us."

On arms control, Kerry made clear that he thought the proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons was a "goal" that could take centuries to achieve and that the United States had no choice but to rely on nuclear deterrence in the meantime.

On Russia, Kerry acknowledged that relations had "slid backward a little bit in the last couple of years" but said that he would try to make progress.

On Pakistan, Kerry said he had talked to Pakistani leaders about the Pakistani doctor who has been imprisoned for assisting the CIA's effort to track Osama bin Laden.

"That bothers every American," said Kerry, who said that he was nonetheless opposed to cutting aid. "We need to build our relationship with the Pakistanis, not diminish it."

As the proceedings continued, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is believed to be nursing presidential ambitions, argued for a strong U.S. role in world affairs and complained that Obama's foreign policy was unclear.

But McCain, who recalled Kerry's role in encouraging the normalization of relations with Vietnam, warmly praised the nominee.

"Senator Kerry and I spent some time, at the Navy's behest, in a certain Southeast Asian country," McCain noted.

The episode that appeared to most capture the mood, however, came when Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who led the hearing, mistakenly referred to Kerry as "Mr. Secretary."

At that point, Kerry jokingly rose as if he was preparing to leave.

"I thought this could be quick," he said, before sitting down to resume answering questions.

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