John Kerry's nomination as President Barack Obama's new secretary of state sailed through the US Senate yesterday.

His fellow senators voted overwhelmingly to confirm him to replace Hillary Clinton as the country's top diplomat, with a vote 94-3 in favour.

As the son of a diplomat and decorated Vietnam War veteran, his fellow senators said he had been preparing to be secretary of state all of his life.

Two senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, all Republicans, were the only no votes.

Mr Kerry, the senior Democratic senator from Massachusetts, voted "present".

His confirmation as the first new member of Mr Obama's second-term national security team had been expected.

The Senate agreed to vote five days after his hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

That panel, which he has chaired for the past four years, voted unanimously by voice vote earlier to back his nomination.

The confirmation sets in motion what is expected to be a closely contested special election for Mr Kerry's Senate seat.

Mr Kerry, 69, a five-term senator and losing presidential candidate in 2004, is expected to be sworn in as secretary of state this week.

Mrs Clinton's last day at the State Department is Friday.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said before the roll call that a heavy vote for Mr Kerry would send a "strong message" to the rest of the world that he had the firm backing of the entire United States.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee, praised Mr Kerry's testimony.

He said: "I thought that Senator Kerry acquitted himself exceptionally well in the hearings that we had last week."

Mr Obama has named two other nominees for his second-term national security team: former senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defence and John Brennan, his counterterrorism adviser, as CIA director.

But both are expected to face much tougher questioning than Mr Kerry.

Mr Hagel's confirmation hearing is Thursday, and Mr Brennan's is set for 7 February.

At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Mr Kerry was visibly moved by applause and praise from his fellow senators.

"I'm honoured beyond words," he said, before making brief remarks about the importance of the committee moving forward on issues like Middle East peace.

Mr Kerry, who has been in the Senate since 1985, said he will make a final speech in the chamber later today.

"What a privilege to work with you and now to work with you in a different way. I thank you very, very much," Mr Kerry added.