Kerry Confirmed as Secretary of State as Global Crises Escalate

Senator Kerry will enter office as hotspots flare up in Syria, northwestern Africa, Egypt, and Iran.

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Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., emerges after a unanimous vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approving him to become America's next top diplomat, replacing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013.

John Kerry was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Tuesday to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

Kerry’s confirmation comes at a key moment in foreign policy. The so called P5+1 (Germany plus the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain) talks with Iran are scheduled to resume in February, after delays of nearly two months. Israel has been warning that Iran is approaching amounts of highly enriched uranium where the U.S. and Israel won’t be able to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Obama has said he’ll use all means necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Kerry also enters office with a mounting humanitarian crisis in Syria. As the civil war there enters its third year, more than 65,000 people have died and record numbers of refugees are beginning to overwhelm neighboring Jordan and Turkey. In one of her last days in office, Clinton on Tuesday approved an additional $155 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, bringing the total the U.S. has spent to $365 million.

The situation in Mali and across the Maghreb in northwestern Africa is also deteriorating.  On Monday, French and Malian troops freed the ancient city of Timbuktu from Islamist militants, though most of northern Mali remains controlled by rebels, al Qaeda-affiliated groups and secessionist Tauregs. Britain has urged its citizens to leave Benghazi as the security situation in Libya has grown perilous. Benghazi is the site of a terrorist against a U.S. consulate in September that claimed the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. In his confirmation hearing last week, Kerry said he’d make embassy security and stability in the Maghreb two priorities of his tenure.

Finally, last week’s Israeli elections left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still in power, but weakened. A surging center and right complicates hopes for Middle East Peace. Next door, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi faced yet another test to his young presidency, declaring a state of emergency over the weekend after violent protests left more than 50 dead. The U.S. had been hoping Morsi could help jump start the long stalled peace process by acting as an interlocutor with Hamas, which has links to Morsi’s political party, the Muslim Brotherhood. But Morsi’s attention has been riveted to problems at home as he tries to consolidate power.

Kerry was approved unanimously earlier Tuesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a panel he chairs until he officially leaves the Senate later this week. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor: 94 to 3 with Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz voting Nay. Texas is home to the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth group which opposed Kerry’s presidential run in 2004 by questioning his bravery in Vietnam. Inhofe is a longtime climate change opponent and Kerry was a leading advocate of climate change legislation. Absent from the vote were Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), and John Hoeven (R-ND).  Kerry voted present on his own nomination.

Upon hearing of Kerry’s confirmation, President Obama said, “John has earned the respect of leaders around the world and the confidence of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and I am confident he will make an extraordinary Secretary of State.”