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US Senate Confirms Gates as Next Defense Secretary

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Robert Gates by a 92-2 vote to be the next secretary of defense, with opposition Democrats expressing hope he will steer a new course in the war in Iraq. When he takes the oath of office - expected later this month, Gates will succeed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has come under criticism from members of both political parties for his handling of the war. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

A day after the Senate Armed Services Committee approved his nomination, the full Senate late Wednesday easily confirmed Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Senator John Warner of Virginia, the outgoing Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Gates would provide President Bush with a fresh and honest perspective about Iraq and other pressing concerns:

"I am confident he will indeed be fearless, absolutely fearless, in providing expert advice, professional advice, his own deep most inner-most personal feelings, about the complex issues that face our nation and indeed the world," he said.

Lawmakers of both parties praised Gates' candor during confirmation hearings Tuesday, when he testified that he did not believe the United States was winning the Iraq war. Although he said he did not believe the United States was losing the war, he warned that the conflict could lead to a regional conflagration if Iraq is not stabilized over the next year or two.

Senate confirmation of Gates came on the same day that the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group of experts, released a report concluding that President Bush's policy in Iraq is not working and calling for the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by early 2008.

Democrats welcomed the recommendations, and called on Gates and President Bush to implement them.

"We will now have a much needed change at the Pentagon," said Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. "I know that members on both sides of the aisle are eager to work with the new secretary to make more changes. But ultimately, it is the president's responsibility."

Members of the Iraq Study Group are to discuss their recommendations at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.