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U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Japan passed a first hurdle on Tuesday, with his nomination clearing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Although Trump in March nominated Hudson Institute think tank head Kenneth Weinstein, his nomination was only greenlighted by the Senate panel Tuesday.

“I am especially pleased to be sending ambassadorial nominees for Japan and Ukraine to the full Senate for confirmation,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch said in a statement. “These posts play a vital role in U.S. foreign policymaking, and I hope Mr. Weinstein … will be confirmed soon.”

Although the committee has passed its nominees on to the full Senate, it’s not clear how the confirmation hearing could be affected by the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel’s scramble to replace late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the run-up to the poll.

If confirmed, Weinstein’s tenure could be cut short if Trump’s Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, wins the election.

Kenneth Weinstein | KYODO
Kenneth Weinstein | KYODO

Weinstein is the president and chief executive officer of the Hudson Institute, a conservative foreign policy think tank with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region, where he has expressed a desire to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance.

At a hearing last month, Weinstein indicated that he would ask Tokyo to assume a larger role in its alliance in order to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s top government spokesman, on Wednesday lauded Weinstein for his efforts to strengthen U.S. ties with Japan.

He “has built personal connections with a wide range of Japanese stakeholders, both public and private,” Kato said at a news conference. “I expect his official appointment will greatly contribute to the even further development of U.S.-Japan relations.”

The post of ambassador to Japan has been vacant since William Hagerty resigned in July last year to pursue a 2020 Senate election campaign in Tennessee. The position is currently being filled by acting Charge d’Affaires Joseph Young, a career Foreign Service officer.

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