Clinton Calls For Smart Power

The Senate Foreign Relations committee has heard from Hillary Clinton, who has been picked to be the next secretary of State. The committee chairman, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, promised a "fair and expeditious confirmation process."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. And first this hour, the most widely anticipated confirmation hearing of the day .

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Appointee, Secretary, U.S. Department of State, Barack Obama Administration): It is an honor and a privilege to be here this morning as President-elect Obama's nominee for secretary of state.

BLOCK: Hillary Clinton appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mrs. Clinton promised to, as she put it, fire on all cylinders and put a new face on American diplomacy. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, it was a polite hearing, despite concerns about conflicts of interest with the fund-raising activities of Clinton's husband.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Former President Clinton was not in the room, but his presence was felt as senators raised concerns about the donations his foundation has received from foreign countries. The ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, said he doubted this issue would get in the way of Hillary Clinton's confirmation, but he encouraged her to make sure it doesn't get in the way of her work.

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): The only certain way to eliminate this risk going forward is for the Clinton Foundation to foreswear new foreign contributions when Senator Clinton becomes secretary of state. I recommend this straightforward approach as the course most likely to avoid pitfalls that could disrupt United States foreign policy or inhibit Senator Clinton's own activities as secretary of state.

KELEMEN: Most senators chose to press this issue in private in written questions, but David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, and Senator Lugar did try to get Mrs. Clinton to consider tougher rules. The secretary of state-designate said she thinks the arrangements that have been put in place already go above and beyond what the laws and ethics rule require.

Senator CLINTON: My career in public service is hardly free of conflict, senator. So I have no illusions about the fact that no matter what we do, there will be those who will raise conflicts. But I can absolutely guarantee you that I will keep a very close look on how this is being implemented.

KELEMEN: That was about as tough as the questions got for Hillary Clinton, whose daughter, Chelsea, sat behind her for support. The secretary of state-designate spoke broadly about her plans for a smart power approach to the world and would not get pinned down on what exactly she's going to do about Iran, for instance.

Senator CLINTON: We don't want anything I say today or anything the president-elect says to take our friends and allies by surprise. So, we cannot tell you with specificity exactly the steps we will take. But I think it's fair to say that the president-elect, as recently as this weekend, has said that we're going to be trying new approaches because what we've tried has not worked.

KELEMEN: She did not take military options off the table and said a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. Clinton also promised to carry out tough negotiations with North Korea and follow up on what the Bush administration has done on that front. A few anti-war protestors from the group Code Pink sat silently during the hearing, holding signs that read, Invest in Peace and Cease-fire for Gaza Now.

Secretary of State-designate Clinton brought up the conflict in Gaza, saying it increases her determination to seek a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Senators on both sides of the aisle praised her. Lugar called her a big leaguer, and Democratic Chairman Senator John Kerry said Clinton has the right qualities for a tough job ahead.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts; Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee): Hillary Clinton has shown the intelligence to navigate the complex issues that we face, the toughness and the tireless work ethic that this job will require, the stature to project America's world leadership and the alliance-building at home and abroad that will be vital to our success in the years ahead.

KELEMEN: Kerry is asking the committee to decide on her candidacy on Thursday, the same day that it will hold a confirmation hearing for President-elect Obama's choice for U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice. If all goes as planned, the full Senate could vote on Clinton soon after Mr. Obama's inauguration. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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Clinton Expresses Plans For New World Approach

Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearing.

Sen. Hillary Clinton testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption 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.

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