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Rice Sworn in as US Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice has been sworn into office as U.S. Secretary of State.

Ms. Rice became the United States' top diplomat Wednesday after the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination by a 85-13 vote.

She is expected to report for duty at the State Department Thursday.

Ms. Rice's confirmation came one day after a nine-hour debate, in which Democrats repeatedly criticized Ms. Rice and the Bush administration for what they called "catastrophic failures" in Iraq.

Her confirmation was never in doubt, as Republicans are the majority party in the Senate.

Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke for many when he strongly endorsed Ms. Rice's nomination. "She is a person of conviction, loyalty, integrity and ability," he said.

But some Democrats accused Ms. Rice of misleading the American people on the rationale for going to war with Iraq. She had cited Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as the key justification for war, but no such weapons have been found.

Senator Barbara Boxer of California has taken a leading role in opposing Ms. Rice's nomination, and has come under fire from Republicans, who believe she has gone too far in her criticism.

Moments before the vote, Senator Boxer defended her position. "I have simply tried to say that holding people accountable is important, that this war matters, that we need to look at the mistakes of the past so we do not repeat them, so that we do not send our young people into another war based on hyped-up rhetoric and half truths," she said.

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee took Democratic critics to task, urging lawmakers to show a united front on foreign policy during wartime. "Partisanship has its time and place, but we are at this point in time a nation at war," he said. "We need the strength of all our resources to fight and win. I am disappointed that others on the other side of the [political] aisle have taken this moment to wage a partisan campaign."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid offered a terse response. "It is a matter of fairness that those who have concerns about Dr. Rice be allowed to express them," he said. "Silence is not an important part of American history, but debate is. Shut up and vote is not democracy."

At the White House, President Bush was asked about the Democrats' criticism of Ms. Rice during a news conference. He responded by praising his close confidante.

"Condi Rice is a fine, fine public servant," he said. "Greatly admired here in America and greatly admired around the world. And she will make a great secretary of state and I look forward to working with her."