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Senate votes to confirm Iowa governor as ambassador to China

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led Senate has confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick to be U.S. ambassador to China, sending Terry Branstad from the governor’s office in Iowa to the American Embassy in Beijing.

Senators voted 82-13 Monday to approve the nomination of Branstad, who is in his sixth nonconsecutive term as Iowa’s governor. Among his most immediate and sensitive assignments will be persuading the Chinese to help defuse North Korea’s advancing ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Branstad assured lawmakers that he would not shy away from confronting Beijing on a range of issues, including human rights and trade.

Branstad, 70, told lawmakers he intends to use his decades-long relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping to advance U.S. and international interests. The two met in 1985 when Xi, then a provincial official, led an agricultural trade delegation to Iowa.

Republicans and Democrats have praised Branstad’s Midwestern pragmatism. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, declared Branstad “fully qualified” for the job.

Branstad called North Korea’s push for a weapon of mass destruction a “threat to all of humankind.” He said he expected China to become more engaged because of concerns that North Korean refugees may flood China if the crisis on the Korean Peninsula escalates further.

He served as Iowa’s governor from 1983 to 1999 before entering the private sector. He was re-elected in 2010. With more than 22 years at the helm of state government, he is the country’s longest-serving governor.

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Reach Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner

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