Senate confirms Chuck Hagel as new US Defence Secy

Washington: The US Senate has confirmed the nomination of Chuck Hagel as country's new Defence Secretary by a 58-41 vote.

Hagel, a Vietnam war veteran and former Republican Senator from Nebraska, is excepted to be sworn in today.

The confirmation of Hagel, 66, comes as a great relief for the Obama Administration as his nomination was held up for weeks and the Democrats and the White House had to do a tough convincing act to get him approved by the Senate.

Several Republican Senators are said to have voted in favour of Hagel despite their reservations.

Hagel will replace incumbent Leon Panetta at a time when the department is faced with multiple challenges including defence budget cuts, rapidly changing developments in the Middle East, increasing threat from North Korea besides the scheduled withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

Senator Jim Inhofe, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who voted against him, said Hagel's first priority as the Defense Secretary should be to address the issue of budgetary cuts.

"His first order of business as Secretary must be averting the devastating cuts to our military associated with sequestration," Inhofe said in a statement.

Tom Carper, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said from an enlisted man in Vietnam War to his pragmatic days in the Senate, Hagel has shown himself to be a courageous leader ready and willing to put his country above everything.

"He possesses the rare mix of management and policy experience that makes him uniquely qualified to handle the challenges of running the Department of Defense at this critical point in our nation's history," Carper said.

Describing Hagel as a man of great personal integrity with a lifelong commitment to national defence, Senator McCaskill, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, hoped that the practice of challenging nominations with innuendo and inference, rather than facts and figures, will be an aberration and not a roadmap.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who opposed Hagel's nomination, said the position of Secretary of Defence is one of the most important jobs in the government and that there were other, more capable choices available.

"Having said this, I do believe it is the President's prerogative to pick his Cabinet and I will work with Senator Hagel to ensure our defense at home and security around the globe is not diminished," he said.