US Senate confirms Kerry as secretary of state

Last updated 11:49 30/01/2013
John Kerry
TOP JOB: John Kerry will take over from Hillary Clinton as US President Barack Obama's new secretary of state.

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The US Senate has overwhelmingly confirmed President Barack Obama's choice of five-term senator John Kerry to be secretary of state, with Republicans and Democrats praising him as the ideal successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The vote Tuesday was 94-3. One senator - Kerry - voted present and accepted congratulations from colleagues on the Senate floor. The roll call came just hours after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the man who has led the panel for the past four years.

Kerry could be sworn in within days. A welcoming ceremony is planned at the State Department on Monday (Tuesday NZT).

Obama tapped Kerry, 69, the son of a diplomat, decorated Vietnam veteran and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, to succeed Clinton, who is stepping down after four years.

The Massachusetts Democrat, who had pined for the job but was passed over in 2009, has served as Obama's unofficial envoy, smoothing fractious ties with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Senator Kerry will need no introduction to the world's political and military leaders and will begin Day One fully conversant not only with the intricacies of US foreign policy, but able to act on a multitude of international stages," said Senator Bob Menendez, who will succeed Kerry as committee chairman.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the panel's top Republican, called Kerry "a realist" who will deal with unrest in Egypt, civil war in Syria, the threat of al-Qaeda-linked groups in Africa and Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Kerry, a forceful proponent of climate change legislation, also will have a say in whether the United States moves ahead on the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, a divisive issue that has roiled environmentalists.

Voting against Kerry were three Republicans.

"Senator Kerry has a long history of liberal positions that are not consistent with a majority of Texans," one of those senators, John Cornyn, said in a statement. The senator is up for re-election next year and could face a tea party challenge.

Kerry's smooth path to the nation's top diplomatic job stands in stark contrast to the harsher treatment for Obama's other national security nominees - Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary and John Brennan to be CIA director.

Hagel, the former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska, faces strong opposition from some of his onetime GOP colleagues who question his support for reductions in the nuclear arsenal and cuts in defense spending. Lawmakers also have questioned whether he is sufficiently supportive of Israel and strongly opposed to any outreach to Iran.

Democrats have rallied for Hagel, and he has the announced support of at least a dozen members in advance of his confirmation hearing.

Six Republicans have said they would vote against him, with some opposing Obama's choice even before the president's announcement.

Brennan faces questions from the GOP about White House leaks of classified information and from Democrats about the administration's use of drones.

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Senator Lindsey Graham, threatened to block the nomination of both men until he gets more answers from the Obama administration about the assault on the US diplomatic mission in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Graham, who earlier this month signalled he would delay Brennan's pick, said in an interview with Fox News' On the Record the he would "absolutely" block Hagel unless Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies about the attack.

Clinton testified for more than five hours last week before the House and Senate, but that wasn't sufficient for Graham.

"Hillary Clinton got away with murder, in my view," he said. "She said they had a clear-eyed view of the threats. How could you have a clear-eyed of the threats in Benghazi when you didn't know about the ambassador's cable coming back from Libya?"

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin told reporters that a hearing with Panetta on Libya is planned though the date is uncertain. Graham welcomed that news and said he would not thwart a committee vote on the nomination.

"Happy as a clam. News to me," said Graham, who met with Hagel for 20 minutes on Tuesday.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Panetta had not responded yet to the request but that the department has been forthcoming with information.

- AP

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