Although a rough hearing is unlikely, Kerry will be pressed about the civil war in Syria and other hot spots, foreign aid and the Keystone XL oil pipeline, about which he'll have a major say.

More than half the Senate has urged quick approval of the pipeline, increasing the pressure on Obama to move forward on the project despite concerns from environmentalists.

"We urge you to choose jobs, economic development and American energy security," wrote 53 senators, who added that the pipeline "has gone through the most exhaustive environmental scrutiny of any pipeline" in U.S. history.

The $7 billion project would carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The Obama administration has twice thwarted the 1,700-mile pipeline, which Calgary-based TransCanada first proposed in late 2008. The State Department delayed the project in late 2011 after environmental groups and others raised concerns about a proposed route through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska.

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