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US Senate Clears Way for Confirmation of Hill to be Ambassador to Iraq

President Barack Obama's nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, is a step closer to assuming the post after the Senate late Monday ended Republican tactics aimed at blocking the nomination. A confirmation vote is expected later this week.

The Senate voted 73 to 17 to end Republican delaying tactics, more than the 60 votes needed to move the nomination forward.

Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, called Christopher Hill "well-qualified" to be U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

"Christopher Hill is a strong and skilled negotiator who has tackled some of the most complex diplomatic challenges in the world," said Senator Reid.

Although he lacks experience in Middle East issues, Hill is a veteran diplomat who serves as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and who has been chief envoy in the six-nation talks to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program. He also has been an ambassador to Macedonia and played a key role in the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia.

Hill's nomination was strongly endorsed by the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana.

"Ambassador Hill has unique experience in managing the type of regional diplomatic effort that is likely to be required at this stage of Iraq's development," said Senator Lugar.

But not all Republicans agree. Some are opposing the nomination because Hill does not have significant experience on Middle East issues.

In addition, some senators, including Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, have criticized Hill's handling of the North Korean nuclear talks. Brownback argued that Hill was not tough enough with Pyongyang over its human rights record.

"It was a failed strategy, and we should not be having him in the middle of designing our diplomatic strategy towards Iraq when it's such a failure," said Senator Brownback.

Senator John Kerry, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the criticism "unfair".

"Those who criticize him for not accomplishing more in the area of human rights ought to appreciate that he was, in fact, implementing the specific daily instructions that he was receiving," said Senator Kerry. "And if they do not like that policy, then the real complaint is against President [George] Bush and the Secretary of State, [Condoleezza Rice]."

The full Senate is expected to confirm Hill this week.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are expected to begin considering President Obama's request for an additional $83.4 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to appear before a House of Representatives panel on Thursday to urge congressional support for the measure.

Among the other initiatives in the package is $80 million to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called on the President Obama Monday to reconsider his plan to close the facility, which McConnell says is aimed at "mollifying critics overseas," but lacks a clear approach for what to do with the hundreds of detainees being held there.

"In the end, the safety of the American people is a far more important concern than pleasing our foreign critics, many of whom have been far quicker to criticize our detention policies than they have been in offering a hand in adjusting them," said Senator McConnell.

President Obama has ordered the facility to be closed by next January.