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US Senate committee approves Tillerson for secretary of state

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US President Donald Trump’s designated secretary of state Rex Tillerson has narrowly clinched the backing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The committee voted 11-10 along party lines on Monday to send Tillerson’s nomination to the full Senate, where he is widely expected to win confirmation next week, despite opposition from Democrats.

Not only Democrats, but also some Republicans like Senators Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham have questioned the ExxonMobil CEO’s close business ties with Russia and expressed reservations about his commitment to defending human rights abroad.

If one Republican member and all Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee had ganged up against Tillerson, they could have sunk his nomination.

Rubio said on Monday that he would support Tillerson despite reservations, and McCain and Graham announced their backing on Sunday.

McCain and Graham expressed concerns “about his past dealings with the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin,” but said they were heartened by his stated support for US-led military alliances, such as NATO.

Earlier this month, Tillerson broke with Trump, who nominated him for America’s top diplomatic post, and said the US would fulfill its commitments to defend its NATO allies.

Flanked by reporters, US Sen. Marco Rubio walks to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee business hearing to vote on US secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, on Capitol Hill, January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

Trump had suggested that he would defend NATO allies only “if they fulfill their obligations” to the US.

Tillerson was reportedly recommended for the post of secretary of state by Robert Gates, former CIA director and defense secretary, in a meeting with Trump. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice made the same recommendation during her meeting with vice president-elect Mike Pence.

Both Gates and Rice run a consulting firm that considers ExxonMobil among its clients.

Meanwhile, former US vice president Dick Cheney has been a vocal supporter of the ExxonMobil chief, describing his nomination as an “inspired choice.” The 75-year-old neoconservative politician has lobbied on behalf of Tillerson.

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