Kerry, 69, has tempered the approach he adopted as a freshman firebrand. But he has continued to practice personal, face-to-face diplomacy, often in the service of President Obama’s foreign policy. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere, he has used his stature as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to carry messages, gather information and smooth ruffled feathers for the president.
“In a sense, John’s entire life has prepared him for this role,” Obama said Friday in nominating Kerry to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I think it’s fair to say that few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers or grasp our foreign policies as firmly as John Kerry. And this makes him a perfect choice to guide American diplomacy in the years ahead.”
Kerry, Obama said, “is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training.”
The Massachusetts Democrat will probably slip smoothly into the job, with quick confirmation expected from the chamber where he has served for nearly three decades and has broad bipartisan support.
It is a position he has eagerly sought, even if being America’s top diplomat was not the highest aspiration of a man for whom the presidency itself was once within reach. Asked several weeks ago by the White House if he would consider becoming defense secretary, Kerry declined and indicated his strong preference for the State Department job, a senior administration official said.
The offer he was waiting for finally came within days after Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the leading contender for the post, withdrew her name from consideration.
Despite signals that Obama was likely to put forth nominees for two or more national security posts together, Kerry’s was the only name announced Friday.
Obama has made no decision on a nominee to replace Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and an announcement is unlikely before the first of the year, said the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Panetta has said he is eager to return to his home in California but has put no date on his departure.
Former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), reportedly at the top of a short list of candidates to lead the Pentagon, has run into bipartisan opposition over past statements he has made about Iran, Israel and gay rights.
In a brief ceremony in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Obama praised Kerry, the son of a U.S. diplomat, for his military service in Vietnam and work decades later restoring diplomatic relations with that country.