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US Senate confirms Blinken as secretary of state

Antony Blinken, the new US secretary of state, speaks at his Senate confirmation hearing on January 19, 2021 / AFP Photo

(AFP)

The US Senate on Tuesday easily confirmed Antony Blinken as secretary of state, with key members of the rival Republican Party backing him.

Blinken, a longtime adviser to President Joe Biden who has vowed to repair US alliances, was approved by a vote of 78-22.

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His easy confirmation is in contrast with former president Donald Trump’s two secretaries of state, Mike Pompeo and Rex Tillerson, who both scraped by with most Democrats opposed.

Republican senators who supported Blinken included two close Trump allies on foreign policy — Marco Rubio, a fervent critic of the leftist governments in Cuba and Venezuela, and Lindsey Graham, known for his hawkish views on Syria and Iran.

Senator James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged colleagues to back Blinken even while acknowledging some disagreements.

“We need a secretary of state. This is the person for the job,” Risch said on the Senate floor.

“Of the many, many issues that we discussed, there was very little, in fact, no daylight between us on some of them,” he said.

He noted that he did not back Blinken’s support for returning to the Iran nuclear accord, from which Trump withdrew the United States.

But Risch pointed to Blinken’s stated willingness to take on Turkey, a NATO ally that has upset many lawmakers by buying a major weapons system from Russia.

Blinken in his confirmation hearing last week also said he supported Trump’s tough approach to China and said he would not reverse Trump’s landmark decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Senator Robert Menendez, the committee’s top Democrat, pointed to Blinken’s ability to engage lawmakers across the political spectrum.

“I believe he is the right person to repair and restore our alliances to reinvigorate the relationship between the State Department and Congress,” Menendez said.

The stepson of a Holocaust survivor, Blinken, 58, is known for his passion for humanitarian causes but also his calm demeanor.

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