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Obama to tap Kerry for secretary of State

Dec. 21, 2012 - 12:53PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 21, 2012 - 12:53PM  |  
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President Obama will nominate veteran senator and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry for secretary of State, officials said Friday.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would replace Hillary Rodham Clinton if confirmed by his fellow senators.

Two senior administration officials confirmed the nomination on the condition they not be named, noting that Obama will make a formal announcement later Friday.

Kerry's path to the nomination cleared last week when another candidate — U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice — announced she would not pursue the secretary of State post.

Kerry, who turned 69 this month, has had lifelong involvement in foreign affairs. The son of a Foreign Service officer, Kerry fought in Vietnam, and later became a leader of a veterans' group that opposed the war.

Elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1982, Kerry won his first U.S. Senate race two years later and is currently in his fifth term. He secured the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2004, but lost the general election to incumbent President George W. Bush.

During his Senate years, Kerry opposed U.S. assistance to Nicaraguan rebels during the 1990s, and criticized the Iraq war during his 2004 presidential bid against Bush.

Since Obama's election, Kerry has worked to improve U.S. relations with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, and spoke with Pakistan leaders after the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory.

If confirmed as secretary of State, Kerry's departure from the Senate sets up what could a pivotal political battle.

Republican Scott Brown, who lost his Massachusetts Senate re-election bid in November to Elizabeth Warren, has expressed interest in running again. Among Democrats being mentioned as a Kerry replacement: Vicki Kennedy, the widow of long-time Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Over the years, Kerry has also played a key role in Obama's rise to the presidency.

It was Kerry who picked Obama, then an Illinois legislator seeking a U.S. Senate seat, to give the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention. That speech launched Obama's national political career.

When Obama sought the presidency in 2008, Kerry endorsed him at a key moment — after Obama lost the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama also considered Rice, a long-time aide, for the secretary of State job.

But Rice pulled out after Senate Republicans had criticized her for comments after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, setting up the prospect of a tough Senate confirmation fight. In a series of interviews, Rice attributed the attack to a protest of an anti-Islam video that got of hand; officials later called it an organized terrorist attack.

David Jackson reports for USA Today.

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