Senate confirms Mike Pompeo as secretary of state


WASHINGTON, April 26 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as President Donald Trump's secretary of state on Thursday, putting the former CIA director in a pivotal role to handle U.S. foreign policy challenges such as North Korea and Iran.

Pompeo, a former Army officer who was a Republican congressman, is regarded as a Trump loyalist with hawkish world views.

He is already deeply involved in diplomacy. Trump sent Pompeo to North Korea three weeks ago to meet with the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, ahead of a summit with the U.S. president to address Pyongyang's nuclear program.

Senators voted 57-42 in favor of Pompeo, who had faced stiff resistance from Democrats worried about his reputation for hawkishness and past harsh statements about homosexuality and Islam.

SEE ALSO: Trump may have played Senate Democrats by sending Pompeo to North Korea

 

Pompeo will be forced quickly to 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 to decide whether to toughen an international nuclear agreement with Iran.

Pompeo narrowly avoided a historic rebuke by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Pompeo, who became one of Trump's closest advisers during his 15 months at the CIA, faced stiff opposition from Democrats, who worried he might be too closely aligned with the president.

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

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mike Pompeo (L) is sworn in as CIA Director by Vice President Mike Pence (R) as wife Susan Pompeo (2nd L) looks on at Eisenhower Executive Office Building January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pompeo was confirmed for the position by the Senate this evening.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., right, chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 28, 2016, to announce the Committee's report on the 2012 attacks in Libya that killed four Americans. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., also appears. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director nominee for President-elect Donald Trump, swears in to a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Pompeo is seeking to reassure senators that he can shift from an outspoken policymaker to an objective spy chief if confirmed.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) arrives to testify before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination of to be become director of the CIA at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) finishes swearing in Mike Pompeo, flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo, to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the vice president's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo gets a hug from supporter Jennifer O'Connor after arriving at the Sedgwick County Republican headquarters at Market Centre in Wichita, Kansas, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

(Fernando Salazar/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images)

Adam Schiff (D-CA) left, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) center, and moderator Chuck Todd, right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015.

(William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) attends his confirmation hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) listens as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) speaks during his confirmation hearing to be the director of the CIA before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., speaks during the news conference before a group of House Republican freshmen walked to the Senate to deliver a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. The letter called on the Senate to pass a long term continuing resolution with spending cuts.

(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

US Congressman Mike Pompeo (C), R-Kansas, sits in the dark after a power failure with US Senator Pat Roberts (L), a former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and former US Senator Bob Dole (R), R-Kansas, as he prepares to testify before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 12, 2017, on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Trump administration.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., center, nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is introduced by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., right, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., during Pompeo's Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building, January 12, 2017. The hearing was moved from Hart Building due to a peer outage.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Incoming Trump administration cabinet secretary nominees including Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson (L-R), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director nominee Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis arrive for meetings at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo (2nd L), flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo (2nd R) and their son Nick Pompeo (R), signs his affidavit of appointment after being sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) in Pence's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

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But he 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.

HAWKISH

Opponents also worried that Pompeo was too hawkish, and said his past remarks about homosexuals and Islam made him unsuitable to represent the United States on the world stage.

U.S. senators said Pompeo was expected to hit the ground running and head off almost immediately to a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday.

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

Trump picked the CIA's deputy director, Gina Haspel, to replace Pompeo as head of the spy agency. If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the first woman to hold the post.

Pompeo 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 the party.

None of the 10 Democrats on the 21-member committee supported the nominee.

Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the foreign relations panel, was a vocal opponent of Pompeo's confirmation, but 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," Menendez said on Wednesday, drawing a contrast with his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, who often seemed to differ from the president.

Trump abruptly fired former oil executive Tillerson last month. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle Editing by Alistair Bell)

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