Speedy US Senate confirmation for Kerry

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on Mr John Kerry's confirmation as President Barack Obama's secretary of state early next week, clearing the way for a quick vote by the full Senate, Senator Robert Menendez said on Thursday.

Mr Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who is next in line to chair the Foreign Relations Committee if Mr Kerry is confirmed, said the panel had scheduled a business meeting on Tuesday during which it could vote the nomination.

That would clear the way for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to set a vote by the full Senate.

"I would expect that soon thereafter, very possibly on the same day, Senator (Harry) Reid would bring his nomination to the floor," Mr Menendez told Reuters after Mr Kerry's confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee.

He said it was also possible the committee vote could be moved to Monday, and that he knew of no senator who would raise any obstacle that would delay the vote.

"I don't know of anybody who would do that," Mr Menendez said."I would not expect that. That would be a surprise to me."

Mr Menendez presided on Wednesday as Mr Kerry took questions from the Foreign Relations Committee for more than three and a half hours.

The Massachusetts senator, who has been the committee's chairman for four years, is expected to easily win the Senate's approval and to replace Mrs Hillary Clinton at the State Department by early next month.

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