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Nuclear Policy Challenges Await Kerry as Top Diplomat

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

President Obama shakes hands with Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) at the White House on Friday as he announces the lawmaker’s nomination to become the next secretary of state. Kerry would face numerous nuclear diplomacy challenges in his new job (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster). President Obama shakes hands with Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) at the White House on Friday as he announces the lawmaker’s nomination to become the next secretary of state. Kerry would face numerous nuclear diplomacy challenges in his new job (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster).

WASHINGTON -- Senator John Kerry will not lack for diplomatic challenges upon taking office as U.S. secretary of State, as anticipated, early next year.

President Obama on Friday announced his intention to formally nominate the Massachusetts Democrat, and Kerry was not expected to face serious opposition from his Senate colleagues.

"He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training," the Associated Press quoted Obama as saying during the White House press event. "Few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers or grasp our policies as firmly as John Kerry."

Kerry was elected to the Senate in 1984 and presently chairs the upper chamber's Foreign Relations Committee.

Here are just a few of the issues he'll face upon taking over from Hillary Clinton at Foggy Bottom.

-- North Korea: The Obama administration has used "strategic patience" in dealing with Pyongyang. It has offered to engage with the regime but has said repeatedly that there will be no rewards for bad behavior.

In the nearly four years since Obama took office, the North has conducted a second nuclear test; showed off a uranium enrichment plant that could be used in nuclear arms production; squelched a tentative nuclear rollback deal with Washington this past February by launching a long-range rocket that fell apart just after liftoff; and this month launched another rocket that deployed a satellite into space.

The administration now hopes to persuade China to accept new action at the United Nations against its neighbor and ally.

-- Iran: At the outset of his first term, Obama offered an "open hand" to Iran in hopes of addressing concerns over the nation's nuclear program and other disputes. However, U.S. policy there evolved into increasing use of sanctions and the threat of possible military force aimed at reining in Tehran's contested nuclear efforts. Iran is hurting but its nuclear program has continued, amid signs it might be willing to join diplomats from Washington and other major powers in a new round of talks.

-- Arms Control: Kerry was key to pushing the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control treaty through the Senate in 2010. Next up might be negotiations for further nuclear weapons curbs with Moscow or a long-promised effort to secure upper chamber ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

-- Russia: The highly touted "reset" in relations between the two nations faltered in the face of Moscow's vehement opposition to the Obama administration's plans to deploy ballistic missile defenses in Europe. Will a second Obama term bring new opportunities for engagement -- or new challenges from a prickly Russian president, Vladimir Putin?

-- Pakistan: Kerry served as Obama's unofficial envoy to Pakistan as relations between Washington and Islamabad at times threatened to completely derail. The sides remain at odds on any number of issues, including Pakistan's desire for access to U.S. nuclear energy suppliers and administration hopes that the South Asian state will stop holding up progress on arms control negotiations at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament.

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