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Hagel new US defence secretary

New US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel (centre).

New US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel (centre).

WASHINGTON — Chuck Hagel has been sworn in as the new US defence secretary, a day after the Senate approved his appointment following a bruising nomination battle.

The former Republican Nebraska senator will speak at the Pentagon later in his first public remarks as Pentagon chief.

Hagel was confirmed by a 58-41 vote after Republicans stalled his nomination, questioning his past positions on Israel and Iran.

He replaces Leon Panetta, who was confirmed by 100-0 in June 2011.

“I am honoured that President Obama and the senate have entrusted me to serve our nation once again,” Hagel said.

Two weeks ago, Republicans delayed a vote, questioning Hagel’s past positions on Israel and Iran, and his qualifications for the post.

But they dropped the filibuster stalling tactic, the first time it has ever been used to delay confirmation of a defence secretary, after a week-long recess.

President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party holds a 55-45 edge in the chamber, and Hagel ultimately only needed 51 votes to be confirmed.

Republican Senators Thad Cochran, Rand Paul, Richard Shelby and Mike Johanns voted in favour of Hagel’s appointment.

Obama said he was pleased there had been at least some bipartisan support for Hagel.

“I am grateful to Chuck for reminding us that when it comes to our national defence, we are not Democrats or Republicans. We are Americans, and our greatest responsibility is the security of the American people,” said Obama.

Earlier yesterday, Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, passed a crucial procedural vote that needed the support of 60 senators. (BBC)

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