Kerry defends Hagel at secretary of state confirmation hearings

WASHINGTON — So uncontroversial was the nomination of Sen. John Kerry to be secretary of state that at his first hearing before the Senate foreign affairs committee, the Massachusetts Democrat wound up defending former Sen. Chuck Hagel, Obama’s embattled nominee to be secretary of defense.

Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the committee, raised issues about Hagel’s support of Global Zero, a group dedicated to eliminating nuclear weapons.

Corker said the secretary of defense historically pushes for increasing the nuclear arsenal, while the secretary of state usually angles for more diplomacy. He questioned what would happen if Hagel were confirmed, and “that balance” were no longer there.

Kerry said he does not believe the former senator wants to completely eliminate America’s nuclear arsenal.

“I know Chuck Hagel, and I think he is a strong, patriotic, former senator, and he will be a strong secretary of defense,” Kerry said.

Kerry said that the Global Zero initiative was meant as “an aspiration” for the long-term — not a short-term prescription.

“The whole point is we’re not talking about today’s world. … It’s a goal. It’s an aspiration,” he said.

“I don’t think Sen. Hagel will sit here, or he’s going to go over to the Defense Department and be a proponent” of Global Zero and complete nuclear drawdown, Kerry said, noting that he himself favored a policy of deterrence, and that he believed that “we have to maintain” the nuclear stockpile program.

He said that idea of complete nuclear drawdown was “worth aspiring to, but we’ll be lucky if we get there in however many centuries, the way we’re going.”

“I think we have to be realistic about it,” Kerry said, “and I think Sen. Hagel is realistic about it.”

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