The US Senate has confirmed Mike Pompeo as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, putting the former CIA director in a pivotal role to handle US foreign policy challenges such as North Korea and Iran.
Mr Pompeo, a former Army officer who was a Republican congressman, is regarded as a Trump loyalist with hawkish world views.
Mr Pompeo, who takes over the job vacated by Rex Tillerson, is already deeply involved in diplomacy. Mr Trump sent him to North Korea three weeks ago to meet with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, ahead of a summit with the US president to address Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Senators in the Republican-controlled chamber on Friday (Thursday local time) voted 57-42 in favour of Mr Pompeo, who had faced resistance from Democrats worried about his reputation for hawkishness and past harsh statements about homosexuality and Islam.
Six Democrats and one independent who normally votes with Democrats backed Mr Pompeo. No Republican voted no.
Mr Pompeo will be forced to quickly address a wide array of other international challenges, including long conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Chinese expansionism in Asia and Russian assertiveness.
Washington is also working with European allies such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the possibility of toughening an international nuclear agreement with Iran.
Supporters of Mr Pompeo said he did well during 15 months leading the CIA, and said the country badly needed a leader at the State Department.
President Trump, who abruptly fired Mr Tillerson last month, welcomed Mr Pompeo’s confirmation, saying in a statement, “Having a patriot of Mike’s immense talent, energy, and intellect leading the Department of State will be an incredible asset for our country at this critical time in history.”
Mr Pompeo narrowly avoided a historic rebuke by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr Pompeo faced stiff opposition from Democrats, who worried he might be too closely aligned with the president.
While in Congress, Mr Pompeo was an outspoken opponent of the Iran nuclear accord. He once suggested the answer to Tehran’s nuclear program – which Iran has always said was for peaceful means only – was 2000 bombing sorties.
Senator Ben Cardin, a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that attitude, and Mr Pompeo’s backing for Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement if it cannot be changed, were reasons he opposed him.
Mr Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing that he was open to fixing, rather than blowing apart, the pact, which the West believes is key to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.