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  • U.S. Army soldier during a controlled detonation in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

    U.S. Army soldier during a controlled detonation in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. | Photo: Reuters

The Senate greenlighted the US$600 billion defense budget, while their Foreign Relations Committee approved Roberta Jacobson as ambassador to Mexico.

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed on Tuesday the National Defense Authorization Act, authorizing more than US$600 billion in defense spending.

The bill included US$5 billion in spending cuts not contained in a version of the bill vetoed by U.S. President Barack Obama last month.

Also, the bill still contains provisions making it difficult to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which was the reason Obama vetoed it last month.

The shutdown of Guantanamo Bay and its lawful return to Cuba is one of the demands that Cuban President Raul Castro has made in order to consider relations with the U.S. fully normalized. He is also demanding the more than 50-year blockade – which is in violation of international law – against the island be lifted, among other requests.

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Shutting down the prison facility was one of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign promises, which he so far has failed to fulfill, largely due to opposition from the Republican-majority Congress.

The bill had strong support from both Republicans and Obama's fellow Democrats with a 72-3 vote for the measure. The bill contemplates increasing the defense budget by over US$30 billion, which would be funneled to a separate war account, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Tuesday U.S. Department of State official Roberta Jacobson, who led negotiations on normalization of ties with Cuba, as the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

​Jacobson, who runs the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, was approved by a vote of 12-7. She has worked on relations between the U.S. and Latin American countries for years and she was the lead negotiator in the U.S.-Cuba normalization talks.

But in June, Jacobson came under criticism from the Ecuadorean government over her Spanish-and English-language tweets criticizing freedom of expression in the South American nation.

Jacobson's appointment must be approved in the full 100-member Senate before she can take up her position in Mexico City.

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