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The incoming Obama administration views the United Nations as an indispensable, if imperfect, institution. That was one of the messages Susan Rice brought to senators at her confirmation hearing today. The president-elect has tapped Rice to become the next US ambassador to the UN. The job will now be a cabinet-level position. The incoming administration says that change is a sign of renewed commitment to multilateralism. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Up till now, Susan Rice has mainly worked on Africa, in the Clinton administration and at Brookings, a Washington think tank. She told senators today that one of her priorities will be to do more to stop what she called an ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan. And she made it clear that her past experience with Rwanda has taught her some powerful lessons.

(Soundbite of confirmation hearing)

Ms. SUSAN RICE (Nominee, US Ambassador to the UN): We need to be prepared to build the sort of international support and consensus that is necessary to challenge the international community so that we see no more Rwandas, and no more Darfurs, and God forbid, what may come in the future.

KELEMEN: Rice called it patently unacceptable that more than a year after a peacekeeping force was authorized for Darfur, it is only up to half-strength. She was also skeptical about the Bush administration's call for a new UN force for Somalia.

Committee Chairman John Kerry expects she will find many frustrations on the job when it comes to conflicts in Africa, from Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

(Soundbite of confirmation hearing)

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): It seems somehow that the entire international community has lost the ability to act on its outrage.

KELEMEN: Several Republicans, including South Carolina's Jim DeMint, pressed Susan Rice to do more to shake up U.N. officials and member states.

(Soundbite of confirmation hearing)

Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): They are ineffective, they've been wasteful, there's corruption, and there is deep concern that there is a lot of anti-American sentiment within the United Nations, which I think undermines the trust and confidence that many Americans have with the United Nations and our role there.

KELEMEN: Democrat John Kerry said UN officials should take advantage of the incoming Obama administration's commitment to the UN and stop making excuses to avoid painful reforms. Susan Rice, the would-be ambassador, pledged to refresh and renew America's leadership.

(Soundbite of confirmation hearing)

Ms. RICE: I will listen, I will engage, I will collaborate. I will go to the UN convinced that this institution has great current value, even greater potential and still great room for improvement.

KELEMEN: It was a quick hearing and the Senate is expected to move equally fast on Susan Rice's confirmation process. A full Senate vote could come a day or two after inauguration. The committee already voted this morning, 16 to one, in favor of Hillary Clinton as secretary of State. Only Louisiana Republican David Vitter said no, saying he thinks former President Bill Clinton's foundation and fundraising activities are a multimillion-dollar minefield of conflicts of interest. Michele Kelemen, NPR News Washington.

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