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(USA TODAY) -- Secretary of State nominee John Kerry spoke Thursday at a confirmation hearing that sounded very much like a coronation.

Thetop State Department job is "a position you have most deservedlyearned," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., acting chairman of thecommittee normally led by Kerry himself. "The State Department could notbe in better hands.'

While other senators also praised Kerry, thewarm feelings weren't unanimous: Police had to remove a protester whoyelled about U.S. policy toward Iran and the Middle East in general.

Sen.Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the committee's top Republican, told Kerry, "mysense if your confirmation will go through very, very quickly."

Inhis testimony, Kerry pledged to keep the United States strong in theworld. He added that the task includes ending U.S. congressional"gridlock" on economic policy and other issues. "Now more than ever," Kerry said, "foreign policy is economic policy."

Kerryalso promised to help prevent Iran from obtaining the means to make anuclear weapon, saying "our policy is not containment, it isprevention." Kerry said he and President Obama would prefer a diplomaticsolution, but made clear that force remains an option.

CurrentSecretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in formally introducingKerry to the committee, said he has "a record of leadership and servicethat is exemplary."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., alsointroducing Kerry, also praised his Senate colleague. McCain discussedtheir shared experience as Vietnam veterans, their work on a committeeto investigate the possibility of missing POWs, and their joint supportfor U.S. recognition of Vietnam's government. McCain also predicted Kerry's confirmation.

Notthat Kerry needed an introduction: The three-decade senator has been amember of the Foreign Relations Committee throughout his tenure, thelast four as chairman.

The Kerry hearing comes a day after theSenate Foreign Relations Committee grilled Clinton over the Sept. 11attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Kerry will likely beasked questions about security at U.S. embassies.

Other possiblequestions: Kerry's past outreach to Syria President Bashar al-Assad,before his crackdown on protesters, the prospect of a nuclear-armedIran, relations between Israelis and Palestinians, fallout from the ArabSpring, and U.S.-Russian relations.

The son of a Foreign Serviceofficer, Kerry is a Vietnam combat veteran who became a leading criticof that war. He won election as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in1982 and claimed a U.S. Senate seat two years later. Kerry captured theDemocratic nomination for president in 2004 but lost to incumbentPresident George W. Bush.

Another aspect of Kerry's political career: promoting the national career of Barack Obama.

In2004, Kerry tapped Obama, then an Illinois legislator seeking a U.S.Senate seat, to keynote the Democratic convention. Four years later,Kerry endorsed Obama at a key point in the latter's presidentialcampaign, after he had lost the New Hampshire primary to Clinton.

Last year, Kerry helped Obama prepare for three debates by portraying Mitt Romney in practice sessions.

"Nothingbrings two people closer together than weeks of debate prep," PresidentObama said last month in nominating Kerry. "John, I'm looking forwardto working with you instead of debating you."

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