By DONNA CASSATA
WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. John Kerry, President Barack Obama's pick for secretary of state, is a familiar face to the world leaders vital to American interests.
The son of a diplomat and Obama's unofficial envoy, Kerry spent hours walking around the palace in Kabul persuading Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff election in fall 2009. The relationship will be crucial in the coming months as the administration draws down U.S. forces after more than a decade of war.
In Pakistan, Kerry helped quell the anger after the U.S. incursion into the country to kill Osama bin Laden in May 2011. The uneasy ties between Washington and Islamabad will be a priority for Kerry at the State Department.
"He knows most of the world leaders," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "So when he goes into a country he will be a known quantity."
The five-term Massachusetts senator has spent his entire congressional career on the Foreign Relations Committee, the last six as chairman. He has traveled extensively both as intrepid lawmaker and administration emissary.
Fulfilling a Kerry dream, Obama on Friday tapped the 69-year-old lawmaker, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the top job at Foggy Bottom.
"I think it's fair to say that few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers, or grasp our foreign policies as firmly as John Kerry," Obama said in making the announcement. "And this makes him a perfect choice to guide American diplomacy in the years ahead."
Kerry is expected to sail to confirmation, with both Republicans and Democrats praising the nomination. His friend, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., jokingly referred to him as "Mr. Secretary" earlier this month, a remarkable turn as just eight years ago Republicans ridiculed Kerry as a wind-surfing, elitist flip-flopper in his bid for the White House.
While Kerry has tamped down diplomatic fires for Obama, he has stepped ahead of the administration on a handful of crises. He joined McCain as an early proponent of a more aggressive policy toward Libya, pushing for using military forces to impose a "no-fly zone" over Libya as Moammar Gadhafi's forces killed rebels and citizens.
He was one of the early voices calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down as the revolution roiled the nation last year.
That independent voice may be tempered once he takes over as the administration's top diplomat.
"He's going to find what it's like to be part of an administration," said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. "John's going to adapt to this well. I think he spent a lot of his time grooming to be a good secretary of state. ... I don't see any downside to this nomination."
During his tenure, Kerry has pushed for reducing the number of nuclear weapons, shepherding a U.S.-Russia treaty through the Senate in December 2010, and has cast climate change as a national security threat, joining forces with Republicans on legislation that faced too many obstacles to win congressional passage.
He has led delegations to Syria and met a few times with President Bashar Assad, now a pariah in U.S. eyes after months of civil war and bloodshed as the government looks to put down a people's rebellion. Figuring out an end-game for the Middle East country would demand all of Kerry's skills.
The selection of Kerry closes a political circle with Obama. In 2004, it was White House hopeful Kerry who asked a largely unknown Illinois state senator to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic convention in Boston, handing the national stage to Obama. Kerry lost that election to President George W. Bush. Four years later, Obama was the White House hopeful who succeeded where Kerry had failed.
Throughout this past election year, Kerry skewered Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, at nearly every opportunity and was a vocal booster for the president's re-election. Kerry memorably told delegates at the Democratic National Convention in August: "Ask Osama bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago."
Kerry and McCain, defeated presidential candidates who returned to the Senate, have joined forces repeatedly during the past few decades. In July 1995, the two decorated Vietnam War veterans provided political cover to President Bill Clinton when he normalized U.S. relations with Vietnam. Clinton had been dogged by questions about his lack of military service.
Kerry, the Yale graduate who enlisted in the Navy, was an appealing presidential nominee in 2004 for his Vietnam War service. Three years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, national security credentials were critical against Bush.