Close Obama aide Tony Blinken confirmed as US deputy secretary of state

This July 28, 2014 file photo shows Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken speaking at the White House in Washington, DC. The US Senate on Dec 16, 2014 confirmed Mr Blinken as deputy secretary of state. -- PHOTO: AFP
This July 28, 2014 file photo shows Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken speaking at the White House in Washington, DC. The US Senate on Dec 16, 2014 confirmed Mr Blinken as deputy secretary of state. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States Senate confirmed Tony Blinken as deputy secretary of state on Tuesday, installing a seasoned insider who has served as a close adviser to President Barack Obama.

Mr Blinken, the outgoing deputy national security advisor, was confirmed on a vote of 55-38, becoming Secretary of State John Kerry's No. 2.

Mr Blinken endured a confirmation process that included scathing criticism led by hawkish Republican Senator John McCain, who took to the Senate floor to blast him as "unqualified". Mr Obama said in a statement following the confirmation that for decades Mr Blinken "has displayed extraordinary integrity, judgment and inclusiveness".

But Mr McCain argued that Mr Blinken has been "abysmally ignorant, or he's simply not telling the truth," in a series of proclamations of foreign policy achievements, including Mr Obama's responsible ending of the war in Iraq and decimating the Al-Qaeda leadership.

Mr Blinken helped draft the Obama administration's fight against Islamic militants, and reportedly has played a behind-the-scenes role in the Iran nuclear negotiations.

Democrats stressed the need for rapid confirmation of Mr Blinken so Mr Kerry has a fully staffed team as the State Department confronts international and diplomatic challenges.

Highlighting the sensitivity of the nomination, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said last week he would use "every procedural method" at his disposal to slow the process.

But the Democratic leadership was able to force a confirmation vote before the Senate leaves Washington this week for the Christmas break.

Mr Blinken, 52, spent part of his childhood in France and speaks fluent French.