Sen. John Kerry at the Democratic Convention 370 (R).
(photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – At John Kerry’s confirmation hearings Thursday to be the next US
secretary of state, the Massachusetts senator said he hoped the Israeli
elections would help restart the peace process between Israelis and
“My prayer is that perhaps this can be a moment where we
can renew some kind of effort to get the parties into a discussion, to have a
different track than we’ve been on over the course of the last couple of years,”
he told Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is the current
Kerry said he believed there was a possibility of Israelis and
Palestinians reaching an agreement, which he described as “an incredibly
important issue” that he would work hard on.
“So much of what we need to
aspire to achieve and what we need globally … all of this is tied to what can
and doesn’t happen with respect to Israel/Palestine,” he said, pointing to
issues in the Maghreb, South Asia, the Gulf and elsewhere.
He also warned
that failure could mean that the window for a two-state solution could shut, and
that that would be “disastrous.”
Kerry declined to spell out how he would
approach talks between the two parties, suggesting that it could be detrimental
to get into details at this point.
“I don’t want to prejudice it with
public demands to any party at this point in time,” he explained.
stressed, “I will never step back from my commitment to the State of Israel [or]
from the plight of Palestinians.”
At another point in the hearing,
though, Kerry had stern words for the Palestinians.
Asked about the
recent Palestinian bid before the United Nations, Kerry warned against the
Palestinians taking advantage of their new non-member status at the world body
to take Israel to the International Criminal Court or other unilateral
“They’re getting close to a line that would be very damaging,” he
said. “If there were any effort to take Israel, for instance, to the ICC… that’s
the kind of unilateral action we would feel very, very strongly against and see
it as completely counterproductive.”
Kerry also addressed the challenge
of Iran, in which he echoed the White House line on the subject.
policy is not containment, it is prevention, and the clock is ticking on our
efforts to secure responsible compliance,” he said in his opening
He added that he and the president “prefer a diplomatic
resolution to this challenge, and I will work to give diplomacy every effort to
But he emphasized, “No one should mistake our resolve to reduce
the nuclear threat.”
His first questioner, New Jersey Democrat Bob
Menendez, who chaired Thursday’s hearing and is in line to take Kerry’s place,
is a strong supporter of Iran sanctions who has sponsored legislation on the
subject. He referred obliquely to some hesitance that the Obama administration
has had in seeing Congress approve tough sanctions that it, particularly the
state department, must then implement.
“Under your leadership, will the
department be committed to the full enforcement of the sanctions passed by
Congress?” Menendez asked.
Kerry’s answer: “Yes, totally.”
was treated graciously by his colleague and is expected to be easily confirmed
to replace Hillary Clinton at the State Department.
He did have a
slightly sharper exchange with Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who questioned him
on the United States’ decision to give Egypt F-16s after President Mohamed
Morsi’s comments referring to Jews and Israelis as descendants of apes and
Kerry responded by calling those comments “reprehensible,”
“degrading,” “unacceptable” and “set back the possibilities of working toward
issues of mutual interest. He added that there needed to be an apology, and
noted that Morsi had proceeded to make two statements of
But he said that Egypt was very important for the US and
that the relationship was not “black and white,” noting for instance that Cairo
had maintained its peace treaty with Israel.
Paul, however, suggested
that sending fighter jets to Egypt could endanger Israel, to which Kerry replied
that the US was committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military
“We do not sell weapons and will not sell weapons that will upset
that qualitative balance,” he said.