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State: Hill qualified for Iraq post

March 13, 2009 at 4:21 PM

WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- Christopher Hill would be an "excellent" envoy to Iraq despite several Republican senators saying otherwise, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Friday.

Since the White House said President Barack Obama would nominate the veteran diplomat to succeed Ryan Crocker in Baghdad earlier this week, several Republican senators have questioned his Middle East credentials.

"I know that Ambassador Hill looks forward to confirmation hearings in which he can address the senators' concerns and go into more detail about his record," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said during a media briefing Friday. "He is ready for those hearings, and I do believe -- and I know that the president and the secretary also believe -- that Ambassador Hill is qualified."

Hill, a career diplomat, currently is assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. His assignments included heading up the U.S. delegation to negotiations on the North Korean nuclear issue, and participating in the Bosnia peace settlement.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas expressed concern that Hill didn't have adequate experience in the Middle East and counterinsurgency for the post, and have urged that his nomination be reconsidered.

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