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John Kerry: 'No one should mistake our resolve' on Iran's nuclear program

Sen. John Kerry appeared Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he still chairs, to discuss the foreign policy he would promote as the next secretary of State.

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Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona – who joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Massachusetts’ other Democratic senator, Elizabeth Warren, in introducing Kerry – concluded his endorsement of Kerry’s confirmation by saying he recommended him “without reservation.”

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But later in the four-hour-long hearing, Senator McCain turned more combative as he took up two divisive issues. McCain repeated his view that the administration “misled” the American people on what happened in Benghazi, and he seemed to put Kerry on notice when he said, “Some of us will not give up on this.”

McCain then blasted the administration’s lack of intervention in the Syria conflict. Saying, “We can do a lot more without putting American boots on the ground,” he reiterated his support for a no-fly zone and for arming the rebels fighting to depose President Bashar al-Assad.

Kerry responded by outlining the factors underpinning the administration’s reluctance to take more forceful steps: the growing role of anti-Western Islamists in the fight, the dangers that a splintering Syria would pose to the region, and the threat of chemical weapons no longer under the central government’s control.

In response to McCain’s assertion that “every day that goes by it gets worse” in Syria, Kerry said the US had to be sure that the steps it does take “have to make things better” and not worse.

Kerry, the son of a Foreign Service officer, said he was proud to have Senate experience, but he choked up when he said he was also proud to have “foreign service in my blood.”

Kerry honed his diplomatic skills over more than two decades of traveling the world as a senator and foreign-policy specialist. More recently he became Obama’s go-to guy for sensitive diplomatic missions to the difficult leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also carried out delicate assignments to Egypt and Syria.

Indeed, it is Kerry’s knack for building relationships with some of the world’s more troublesome leaders that led some foreign-policy experts to question Kerry’s nomination. For example, Kerry developed a relationship with Mr. Assad, saying as recently as March 2011, “My judgment is that Syria will move, Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West.”

Kerry addressed his past views on Assad, saying he is convinced the Syrian leader “did want to move” his country forward. But “since then he had made a set of judgments that are inexcusable and reprehensible,” Kerry said, adding he now believes that “time is ticking” on Assad’s time in power.

The hearing was interrupted once by a heckler in the back of the room, a woman in a pink hat who followed Kerry’s tough stand on Iran with shouts about friends dying in the Middle East and “make peace with Iran!”

Kerry handled the boisterous protest with aplomb, noting that he, as a young Vietnam veteran, had also come to Congress to make his opposition to US policy known.

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