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Kerry: elder statesman of the US Senate

U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks to reporters about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, on Capitol Hill in Washington in this file photo from December 19, 2012. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON: John Kerry, nominated Friday to be secretary of state, failed to win the White House in 2004 but has built an impressive resume as an elder statesman in the US Senate.

The decorated Vietnam veteran turned anti-war activist failed to unseat George W. Bush in 2004 after running a lackluster campaign in which he was bombarded by dubious ads attacking his military service.

But, as a top senator specializing in foreign affairs, Kerry has sat down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, soothed nerves in Pakistan and visited the Gaza Strip, winning the respect of fellow Democrats and Republicans alike.

Kerry was an early backer of President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential bid, and is believed to have long sought the post of top US diplomat. In nominating him Friday, Obama praised Kerry's record on foreign affairs.

"He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training," Obama said, as Kerry stood next to him at the White House.

But Kerry's path only became clear after UN ambassador Susan Rice withdrew from the running earlier this month after being criticised for her handling of the aftermath of the September 11 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Kerry was born in Denver, Colorado on December 11, 1943 to a privileged family. His mother Rosemary was part of the Forbes shipping clan and spent much of her early life on an estate in France.

His father, Richard, was a pilot in the Army Air Corps and went on to join the US foreign service.

Kerry's childhood, spent in private schools in Switzerland and New England, fashioned the character of the so-called "Boston Brahmin" who would eventually face blistering Republican attacks for his internationalist views.

Kerry has said World War II and his following his father to Cold War diplomatic postings in Berlin and Oslo taught him that it was import for the United States to act through international alliances to address conflicts.

He studied at prestigious Yale University where, like his later rival Bush, he was a member of the secretive Skull and Bones society.

After graduating with a law degree in 1966, Kerry joined the Navy and volunteered to fight in Vietnam.

During his second 48-day tour, as a lieutenant in charge of dangerous "Swift" gunboat missions in the Mekong Delta, Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts for wounds suffered and a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for valor.

But he returned from Vietnam disenchanted with the war, and in testimony before Congress in April 1971 he famously asked: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

His remarks made him a hero of the anti-war left in the 1970s and underpinned his 2004 election-year opposition to the Iraq war, but infuriated many veterans and fueled accusations that he was weak on national defense.

First elected to the US Senate in 1985, Kerry went on to take strong positions on a wide array of issues, accumulating useful experience but also building up a record that Republicans would prey on later.

During the 2004 election Kerry faced charges of being a "flip-flopper" over his vote to authorize the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and his subsequent opposition to the war, which was a cornerstone of his campaign.

Kerry would later say that his vote to authorize military action was aimed at pressuring Saddam Hussein to allow more inspections of suspected weapons of mass destruction sites, but the charges of political opportunism stuck.

He was also branded a wealthy Massachusetts patrician out of touch with ordinary Americans, as opponents brandished a video of him windsurfing and zeroed in on his wealth and his time spent in Europe.

To make matters worse, a group of Vietnam veterans known as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth released a series of blistering attack ads accusing Kerry of lying about his service to win medals and aid his political career.

Kerry eventually pushed back, saying that the ads were completely false, and his longtime colleague and fellow veteran, Republican Senator John McCain, also condemned them, but Kerry nevertheless lost the 2004 election.

He remained an influential senator however, serving as chairman of the powerful Senate foreign relations committee and holding senior positions in the finance, commerce and small business committees.

Kerry was an early Obama supporter in 2008, and has since traveled to the Middle East and South Asia to help further the president's objectives.

He met Assad in Damascus on a number of occasions as part of early efforts by the administration to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process, before the March 2011 outbreak of the Syrian revolt.

In May 2011 Kerry went to Pakistan to try to ease tensions in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, and in February 2009 made a rare visit to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, without meeting anyone from the Islamist group.

In 1970, Kerry married Julia Thorne. They had two daughters but divorced in 1988, and he married ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz in 1995.

 

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