Kerry stresses foreign interactions for diplomats

WASHINGTON—Drawing on his own perspective as the son of a Foreign Service officer, Senator John F. Kerry on Thursday made an impassioned plea for what he said his father called “foreign policy outdoors” – the need for American diplomats to interact extensively with foreign populations despite the risks.

“We have to be on the ground outside the wire reaching out to those people,” Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said as he opened a hearing to receive testimony on the State Department investigation into the terrorist assault that killed the US ambassador and three others in Benghazi, Libya, in September.

“That’s the enterprise of US foreign policy today,” he said. “To help men, women and children around the world share in the vision of democracy and the values of freedom, and through it bring stability to whole regions of the world and reduce the threats to our nation.”

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Kerry, who is widely believed to be President Obama’s top choice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in his second term, drew on his own biography to highlight what he said are the necessary risks that Foreign Service officers endure to advance US foreign policy interests.

“When my father served in Berlin after World War II I remember my mother sometimes looking at the clock nervously in the evening when he was late coming home for dinner, in a city where troops guarded the line between East and West and the rubble of war was still very fresh,” Kerry recalled. “My father knew that what he was doing was worth whatever the risk might have been—and so do the Foreign Service personnel who we send all over the world today.

“They want to be accessible to people on the ground, they need to be accessible to people on the ground, when they are representing our country,’ the Massachusetts Democrat continued. “They want those people to see and touch the face of America.”

He warned against pulling back. “We do not want to concertina wire America off from the world.”

But Kerry also stressed that to accomplish the mission the State Department, which he noted receives a tenth of the annual budget of the military, needs to be adequately funded.

“We need to make certain that we are not penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting America’s vital overseas interests,” he said. “Adequately funding America’s foreign policy objectives is not spending, it is investing.”

Hanging over the Senate hearing was Kerry’s future prospects as America’s top diplomat, putting him in the unusual situation of conducting oversight of an agency he will likely soon run.

“I will not be asking any questions,” he told the witnesses after his opening statement, yielding his time to fellow members of the panel.

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