On the nominations of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel

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Excerpted from Embassy New Baird, MacKay US counterparts could be Vietnam vets.by Sneh Duggal Wednesday, 01/09/2013

United States President Barack Obama’s picks for his next secretaries of state and defence are good for Canada because both bring with them years of experience and some knowledge about their northern neighbour, say former diplomats and other observers….

Mr. Obama announced Dec. 21 that he had chosen 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry to become the next secretary of state. Mr. Kerry is a Massachusetts Democrat and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He would replace US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she will not seek a second term.

On Jan. 7, the US president also announced his pick of former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to replace US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who announced the same day that he was stepping down.

If their nominations are approved, it would mean that two of the Obama administrations’ most internationally-focused secretaries would be Vietnam War veterans. Mr. Hagel would be the first Vietnam vet to lead the military.

The US Senate would need to confirm both nominees.

Foreign Minister John Baird “looks forward to working with Senator Kerry to continue building on the important relationship with our closest ally, biggest trading partner, and next-door neighbour,” wrote Joseph Lavoie, a spokesperson for Mr. Baird, in an email to Embassy.

Mr. Baird was quick to send out congratulatory remarks to Mr. Kerry on Dec. 21. The foreign minister sent out two tweets: the first one congratulated Mr. Kerry, while the second read that “I would also like to wish @JohnKerry the best of luck during the confirmation process—and I hope to see him soon.”

‘Knowledge of Canada’

Adam Chapnick, deputy director of education at the Canadian Forces College, said it would be important for Canada that Washington push through the confirmation process as quickly as possible.

“We have an interest in a stable, predictable international order, so having either of the positions…unfilled for any significant period of time is therefore not helpful to us,” Mr. Chapnick said.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson said that if their nominations go through, it would be important for Mr. Baird and Defence Minister Peter MacKay to make personal contact with their American counterparts quickly.

This could mean a telephone call of congratulations, “followed by a personal meeting preferably in Washington rather than at a multilateral forum where they will be besieged by others with the same objective,” said Mr. Robertson, who is currently a senior strategic advisor with McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

“I think it’s always good to have experienced knowledgeable practitioners and Hagel and Kerry are both of those, and they also both have some knowledge of Canada,” Mr. Robertson said.

“These are the kinds of appointments that will work to a good relationship, you want people like this, and you don’t want people that are having to learn everything from the start,” he said, noting the importance of both having the president’s confidence.

Those following Canada-US relations and politics say that Mr. Kerry’s approval process should go smoothly…

Mr. Robertson said Mr. Kerry and Mr. Hagel’s interactions with their Canadian counterparts would likely be more bilateral on the defence side and more multilateral on foreign affairs topics.

He said that in both cases they would start with issues such as what is happening in Syria, how to deal with Iran, and then other places like Libya, Afghanistan, and Myanmar…