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Sen. Hillary Clinton testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton began Tuesday to outline some of the incoming Obama administration's plans for dealing with some of the nation's biggest international challenges.
At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she promised what she called a "smart power" approach to foreign policy issues, with "diplomacy in the vanguard" as well as development and military power.
Clinton's appearance before the Senate panel was generally friendly, with the expectation on all sides that she would be confirmed. The only signs of concern about her nomination came from Republicans who wanted tighter measures to avoid conflicts of interest between Clinton's role as secretary and her husband's charitable foundation.
Clinton addressed what will probably be the first challenge that the Obama administration will face — in reaffirming the president-elect's commitment to working for peace in the Middle East. She said both she and Obama "understand and are deeply sympathetic to Israel's desire to defend itself ... and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets." But she said the present Israeli offensive in Gaza is a reminder of "the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East."
She said the new administration will seek a lasting agreement "that brings real security to Israel ... and independence, economic progress, and security to the Palestinians in their own state."
The questions from committee members ranged from the conflict in Gaza to nuclear nonproliferation to violence against women and human trafficking.
Clinton said she would work to implement President-elect Obama's "more for more" policy in Afghanistan, saying that meant more troops from the U.S., more support from allies and more support for economic development in Afghanistan. She also said that the U.S. policy would be "to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan together, particularly the border region."
Clinton said the president-elect intends to be active in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. In addition to humanitarian aid, she said the U.S. will consult with allies on "other options" to pressure the Sudanese government, including no-fly zones and "other sanctions and sanctuaries."
In response to a question from committee Chairman John Kerry, Clinton said she would seek greater international cooperation to dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons, engaging the United Nations and U.S. allies in actions to persuade and pressure Iran. She also stressed that the Obama administration would consult "broadly and deeply" with countries in the region, such as Israel, before taking action.
The hearing began this morning with a friendly greeting from Kerry, who spoke of Clinton as "secretary" from the beginning — leaving no doubt that she would win easy confirmation — but said he wanted to hear her thoughts on issues ranging from the conflict in Gaza to global climate change.
Stressing the challenges ahead for Obama, Kerry said the U.S. faces "a gargantuan task" and must fundamentally redefine the American approach to foreign policy. He aimed several slaps at the Bush administration's handling of foreign policy, saying, "We have spent the treasure of our nation" in lives and in money — questioning whether the effort was effective.
Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the committee, called Clinton "a big leaguer" who has the worldwide stature needed to represent the United States and to bolster efforts to improve U.S. standing with other countries.
Lugar added to the list of issues that he considers vital for the secretary of state. He said it is essential that the START treaty on nuclear arms reduction with Russia be approved. The treaty, which Lugar called "the conceptual underpinning of our strategic relation with Russia," is set to expire in December.
The Indiana Republican also said energy security must be a much higher priority, and he cited Russia's recent cutoff of natural gas supplies to Europe.
Lugar and Louisiana Republican David Vitter both expressed concerns about the charitable foundation set up by Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton. The foundation, which among other things, works on HIV/AIDS issues in developing countries, released the names of its donors last month. They included countries such as Saudi Arabia, with which Hillary Clinton will be dealing as secretary of state. Lugar asked that the foundation agree to accept no foreign donations during the time that Clinton is secretary. Failing that, he said, the foundation should at least agree to immediately disclose any donations of more than $50,000.
Clinton said her husband's agreement to release donor names in a yearly report went beyond ethics requirements and is "probably as close as we get to doing something that is so unprecedented."
The committee could vote on Clinton's nomination as early as Wednesday.