WASHINGTON: The US Senate on Tuesday confirmed Senator John Kerry will be the next secretary of state, approving President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Hillary Clinton as America’s top diplomat.
Kerry - a senator from Massachusetts best known outside the United States for his unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign - was nominated last month to take over the foreign affairs portfolio in Obama’s second term team.
The Senate voted 94-3 in favour of the veteran Democratic lawmaker after the chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry chairs, approved the nomination earlier in the day.
His nomination was pushed through the Senate in a matter of days, given the clear bipartisan support for the 69-year-old veteran Democratic lawmaker, who spent 28 years in the Senate and has allies on both sides of the aisle.
He is known to have long coveted the job, but almost lost out to US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, seen as Obama’s first choice.
Rice withdrew from consideration for the post under Republican fire over the administration’s confused public response to the September 11 attack on a US mission in Libya that left four Americans dead.
Earlier, Kerry said he was “humbled” and gratified by the support from his colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who voted unanimously in his favour.
“They’ve been wonderful, they’ve been really superb,” he said of his fellow committee members, adding that he was a little sad to leave the august chamber. “I’m very wistful about it, it’s not easy,” he said.
Clinton, 65, is expected to leave her post Friday, amid speculation about whether she will run for the presidency in 2016. For now, she has said only that she is looking forward to some rest after four gruelling years.
At his confirmation hearing last week, Kerry called for “fresh thinking” as he outlined his foreign policy agenda and plans for relations with Iran, China and the Middle East.
“American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“We cannot allow the extraordinary good that we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role that we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us,” he said.
The decorated Vietnam veteran turned anti-war activist built strong credentials in the Senate. He has sat down with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, soothed nerves in Pakistan and visited the Gaza Strip.
But he will face a number of significant challenges in the months and years to come, as the United States tries to extricate itself from war in Afghanistan and rebuild ties in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts.
“His whole life has prepared him for this job,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said on the Senate floor.
With Kerry’s more-or-less painless approval out of the way, Obama faces a tougher political battle winning senatorial support for his pick to replace Leon Panetta as defence secretary - Chuck Hagel.
Despite being a moderate former Republican senator and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, Hagel has run afoul of critics who accuse him of being soft on Iran and lukewarm in his support of key US ally Israel.
Hagel and his supporters have mounted a vigorous lobbying effort in a bid to allay these concerns and his Senate confirmation hearing is set for Thursday.