Sen. John Kerry, the former presidential candidate who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is Barack Obama's choice to be the next secretary of state, the president announced Friday.
The senior senator from Massachusetts is noted for having the experience, gravitas and relationship-building skills that could help him succeed Hillary Clinton, the outgoing top U.S. diplomat.
Obama, making the announcement as Kerry and his wife looked on, praised the senator's "extraordinarily distinguished Senate career" and military service "with valor" in the Vietnam War.
"Over these many years, John's earned the respect and confidence of leaders around the world. He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job-training," Obama said. "I think it is 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 has traveled the globe on behalf of the Obama administration to mend frayed relationships. Most notably, he traveled to Pakistan after relations had been set back by a series of incidents, including the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
"John's played a central role in every major foreign policy debate for nearly 30 years," Obama said. "As we turn the page on a decade of war, he understands that we have to harness all elements of American power and ensure that they're working together, diplomatic and development, economic and political, military and intelligence as well as the power of our values which inspires so many people around the world."
Obama said Kerry has earned the respect and trust of his Senate colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, and the president said he's confident the Senate will swiftly confirm the nomination.
Clinton was not present for the announcement because she is still recovering from a concussion, but she issued a statement calling the pick "excellent."
Clinton said Kerry has been her "trusted partner on major foreign policy challenges." She said he helped end the war in Iraq and advocate a "responsible transition in Afghanistan. He helped get important legislation for Pakistan and win ratification with Russia of the New START Treaty.
"John Kerry has been tested -- in war, in government, and in diplomacy. Time and again, he has proven his mettle," she said. "Senator Kerry has fought for our nation's diplomats and development experts -- and for investing in their mission and America's global leadership.
"And now, he is working closely with me and my team to learn the lessons of the tragedy in Benghazi, further protect our people and posts, and implement every single one of the Accountability Review Board's recommendations," she said, making a reference to the killings of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in September.
Others have echoed the praise for Kerry.
"There are very few people with greater experience over a longer period of time," said Nicholas Burns, a former career ambassador who has served every secretary of state since Warren Christopher, and was most recently undersecretary for political affairs under Condoleezza Rice. "He would be a very, very impressive choice."
"You really need someone who is a renaissance person with a tremendous range of skill, both political and substantive, with a deep reservoir of knowledge," Burns said in an interview. "You need someone who can drill several layers deep on foreign policy issues."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice had been seen as a front-runner for the job, but she withdrew her name from consideration after Republicans said her TV talk show comments about the killings of Americans in Libya were misleading.
Kerry soon became the top candidate for the job. Republicans opposed to a Rice nomination have bandied about Kerry's name for weeks, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN that Kerry would be a "popular choice with the Senate."
It's ironic that several prominent Republicans are rallying behind Kerry, just eight years after their party demonized him during his failed 2004 presidential campaign against President George W. Bush.
"In a way, he is the poster child for the job," said Aaron David Miller, Middle East expert at the Wilson Center. "And in a way, it's a job for which, around which he has been preparing for most of his professional life."
Susan Rice commended the choice in a statement issued Friday, citing Kerry's Navy service and political career.
"Senator Kerry has led tirelessly and effectively to advance U.S. interests and values around the globe," the statement said. "I have been honored to work with him in the past, and I look forward to working closely with him again on President Obama's national security team."
Kerry was born in Denver, on December 11, 1943, and he spent much of his childhood overseas. He lived in Berlin, and then went to a Swiss boarding school at age 11.
After graduating from Yale University in 1966, Kerry was deployed to Vietnam as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He was a gunboat officer on the Mekong Delta, earning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
Upon his return home in the early 1970s, Kerry gained public recognition as the head of the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War and for his anti-war testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In 1972, he ran his first campaign, a losing effort for a congressional seat in Massachusetts. He eventually entered politics in 1982 as lieutenant governor under Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Two years later, Kerry won the U.S. Senate seat he has held for five consecutive terms.
The Vietnam experience came back to haunt Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. A Republican-funded group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth aired campaign ads accusing him of lying to receive two of his five combat decorations and criticizing his anti-war activism. The incumbent Bush won the Electoral College vote 292 to 252 and racked up 3 million more votes than Kerry nationwide.