Clinton Meets Congress On Foreign Policy Aims

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton briefs Congress on U.S. foreign policy priorities. So far, the Obama administration is getting high marks for diplomatic outreach. But lawmakers are curious about priorities.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on Capitol Hill today. She got a lot of support for the Obama administration's new foreign policy approach. But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, she also heard concerns and questions about just how far the U.S. is willing to go to reach out to its adversaries.

MICHELE KELEMEN: California Congresswoman Diane Watson couldn't hide her feelings about Hillary Clinton.

Representative DIANE WATSON (Democrat, California): You are a breath of fresh air. I have watched your movements around the globe and you're talking peace.

KELEMEN: And it wasn't only Democrats who liked what they're seeing in American foreign policy. Texas Republican Ron Paul welcomed what he called a change in tone. Secretary Clinton assured him it's not just in words but in deeds.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): We are ending the war in Iraq. The president did close Guantanamo. The president is looking for ways to engage with those who nobody wanted us to talk to, which is a sea shift in how we are proceeding.

KELEMEN: Democrats and Republicans alike warned against too much of a sea change in policy toward Iran though, arguing the U.S. need to leverage to get Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions, and that means sanctions. The secretary said that's part of the plan.

Sec. CLINTON: By following the diplomatic path we are on, we gain credibility and influence with a number of nations who would have to participate in order to make the sanctions regime as tight and crippling as we would want it to be.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton also reassured lawmakers that the U.S. is not easing up pressure on the Palestinian militant group Hamas and won't deal with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, unless the group renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel.

There was plenty of debate about President Obama's warm handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez over the weekend. Secretary Clinton said Chavez just knows how to work the cameras. And as for Cuba, she said the Obama administration is proceeding carefully; first, just watching the Cuban response to the U.S. decision to let Cuban-Americans visit the island as often as they want.

Sec. CLINTON: The president's actions did draw a response from Raul Castro, which was then contradicted today by Fidel Castro, saying that my brother really didn't mean that we would talk about political prisoners and human rights. So I think you could see there's beginning to be a, you know, debate. I mean, this is a regime that is ending.

KELEMEN: At one point, Congressman Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, pulled out a poster of one of the many political prisoners in Cuba, prisoners he says he's tried to visit.

Representative CHRIS SMITH (Republican, New Jersey): We have been turned down every time and have not gotten a visa. Others get it. They don't go to the prisons. I think all of us on both sides of the aisle, regardless of one ideological perspective, need to say free the prisoners.

KELEMEN: The hearing did get political and personal at some points. Smith, a staunch opponent of abortion, railed against Secretary Clinton for a speech she made when she received an award last month in honor of the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger.

Rep. SMITH: So it is extraordinary difficult how anyone could be in awe of Margaret Sanger, a person who made no secret whatsoever of views that were antithetical to protecting fundamental human rights of the weakest and the most vulnerable, and to suggest that her work remains undone around the world.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton said this is one area where she and Congressman Smith have a profound disagreement.

Sec. CLINTON: We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women's health. And reproductive health includes access to abortion that I believe should be safe, legal and rare.

KELEMEN: That is another aspect of foreign policy the Obama administration has changed in its first months in office. It overturned a ban on federal funds to international family planning organizations that perform or advocate abortions.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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