Thursday, March 21, 2019
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US Senate confirms Mike Pompeo as secretary of state

After a difficult confirmation process, senators vote 57-42 in favour of US President Donald Trump's nominee.

Mike Pompeo

The United States Senate has confirmed CIA Director Mike Pompeo as the new secretary of state.

Senators on Thursday voted 57 to 42 in favour of US President Donald Trump's nominee, ending a difficult confirmation process dogged by stiff resistance from the Democrats.

Pompeo, a former army officer who served as a Republican congressman, is seen as a Trump loyalist with hawkish world views.

He is regarded by many as a controversial figure who has voiced support for torture, wants to keep the prison at Guantanamo Bay open and has a history of xenophobic remarks.

The result of the vote at the Senate marked one of the slimmest margins for the job in recent history. 

Every past nominee since at least the Jimmy Carter administration (1977-81) had received 85 or more "Yes" votes, with the exception of Trump's first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who got 56.

'President's support'

The approval came in time for newly sworn Pompeo to lead the US delegation to NATO foreign minister talks in Brussels this Friday.

He is then scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel this weekend. Pompeo’s spokesperson said the stops were chosen to reflect their "importance as key allies and partners in the region".

Pompeo faced criticism from Democrats, who view him as being too bellicose and have criticised his past harsh statements about homosexuality and Islam, arguing they made him unsuitable to represent the US on the world stage.

Pompeo narrowly avoided being the first nominee for secretary of state ever rejected by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee only when Republican Senator Rand Paul, who had vowed to oppose him, announced his support minutes before the committee voted on Monday after pressure from his party.

None of the 10 Democrats on the 21-member committee backed Pompeo's nomination.

Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the foreign relations panel, said he did not think the bruising confirmation fight would leave Pompeo wounded.

"He obviously has the president's support. That will be meaningful to people in the world," said Menendez, drawing a contrast with Tillerson, who often seemed to differ from the president.

Trump abruptly fired Tillerson, a former oil executive, last month.

Supporters said Pompeo did well during 15 months leading the CIA, and that the country badly needed a leader at the State Department, where staffing had been slashed, and many positions left unfilled since Trump became president in January 2017.

Pompeo will be forced quickly to address a wide array of other international challenges, including in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as relations with China and Russia.

Washington is also working with European allies such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to decide whether to toughen an international nuclear agreement with Iran.

In Congress, Pompeo was an outspoken opponent of the Iran nuclear accord.

But during his confirmation hearing, he said he was open to fixing, rather than blowing apart, the pact.

Pompeo has already been deeply engaged in the administration's efforts on North Korea and recently travelled to Pyongyang, where he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

On Thursday, the White House released photos of the meeting, which it said took place over Easter weekend.

Pompeo is expected to arrange a summit between Trump and Kim in the coming months. 

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