MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

A report today from the State Department takes China and Russia to task over human rights. It strikes a very different tone from the one set by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her recent trip to Asia. Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says Clinton's taken heat for her message on that tour.

DANIEL SCHORR: Amnesty International expressed itself as extremely disappointed with the way that she dealt with human rights in Beijing. And The Washington Post said editorially that the effect would be to demoralize thousands of democracy advocates in China. This, because she said that pressing human rights issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.

On a Beijing television talk show, she urged the Chinese to continue buying U.S. Treasury bonds. And later, she asked China to join in an effort to curb greenhouse gases and not make the mistakes that we made. Welcome to the Obama pragmatic style of foreign policy. When the new secretary says that the United States has to continue pressing human rights issues, but we know what they will say, she is saying that the United States needs China for too many purposes to allow a hang-up over conflicting values.

In presenting the State Department report on human rights around the world, Mrs. Clinton, now back in Washington, said, we will not rely on a single approach as we strive to overcome tyranny and subjugation that weaken the human spirit. This ambiguous approach, which once would've been called coexistence, is also beginning to evidence itself in relations with Russia.

The U.S. government heartily disapproves of the Kremlin's repression of dissidence, the invasion of neighboring Georgia and the use of natural gas as a political weapon. But the U.S. needs Russian cooperation on arms control, in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions and economic stabilization. And when Vice President Joe Biden, in his February 7 speech to the European security conference in Munich, offered to press the reset button with Russia, he was reflecting change that already had begun happening.

A few days after the inaugural, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke with President Obama on the telephone. There followed exchanges of letters about what they could profitably discuss together. Both Obama and Medvedev emphasized normalizing relations and starting anew, according to Russia's prime minister. Arrangements are being made for the two to meet during the Group of Twenty Economic Summit in London on April 2nd.

President Obama appears to be committed to fostering a pragmatic new era of relations with the two giants, Russia and China. And to achieve that, he seems willing to soft-pedal their many differences.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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