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Hillary Clinton addresses Senate in confirmation hearings

Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday promised a new diplomacy that would give America “more partners and fewer adversaries” and signaled her intention to reach out to Iran and continue the uphill struggle for Middle East peace.

At a five-hour Senate confirmation hearing, Sen. Clinton said she and President-elect Barack Obama would overhaul the approach of the Bush administration with a rejuvenated emphasis on diplomatic engagement, alliance-building and development.

“I believe that American leadership has been wanting but is still wanted,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She said U.S. foreign policy should not be guided by “rigid ideology,” pledging that in the Obama administration, “there will be no doubt about the leading role of diplomacy.”

Clinton wants to swiftly increase State Department funding to broaden its role in national security and increase the government’s reliance on nonmilitary action in response to international crises. That objective is shared by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

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Yet on a series of international problems, Clinton described a posture with echoes of the Bush administration. “We will lead with diplomacy because it’s a smart approach,” she said at one point. “But we also know that military force will sometimes be needed.”

She was received warmly but faced repeated challenges about the charitable activities of her husband. Democratic as well as Republican senators expressed concern that contributions to former President Clinton’s foundation could pose potential conflicts of interest.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the committee’s senior Republican, urged the Clinton foundation to exclude all foreign donations. He said the foundation represented a “unique complication” because of the risk that foreigners might think giving money will win favors from the former president’s wife.

Clinton defended her husband, contending that plans for disclosure of contributors go beyond that required by government ethics watchdogs.

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“No matter what we do, there will be those that [claim] conflicts,” she said.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the new chairman of the committee, said Lugar’s concerns were shared by the others on the panel.

Under an agreement with the Obama transition team, the Clinton foundation made public a list of its past donors and promised to publish annually the names of its donors and to submit future foreign donations to a State Department ethics review.

Clinton’s foundation has worked to provide healthcare, particularly for people with AIDS in underdeveloped countries. It also promotes economic growth in Africa and Latin America, combats global climate change and works to solve such problems as childhood obesity in the U.S.

Matt McKenna, communications director for the former president, said by e-mail that the Clintons were “by far the most financially transparent former first couple in American history.”

Kerry said he planned to hold a committee vote this week; Sen. Clinton is expected to easily win confirmation. A former Democratic presidential contender, Clinton plans to resign her seat as New York’s junior senator after she is confirmed.

Often considered a polarizing figure, Clinton, 61, debuted in her State Department role at a time of rising public approval. A Gallup poll Tuesday showed 65% of Americans hold a favorable opinion of her, the highest such rating in nearly 10 years.

She appeared with her daughter, Chelsea, who sat directly behind her. The former president stayed away to ensure attention remained focused on his wife, a spokesman said.

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Clinton spoke easily about a range of problems worldwide, addressing the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip for the first time. She acknowledged that problems in the Middle East might seem intractable, but said, “We cannot give up on peace.”

“The president-elect and I understand -- and are deeply sympathetic to -- Israel’s desire to defend itself under current conditions and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets,” she said. “However, we have also been reminded of the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East, and pained by the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians.”

Clinton echoed the Bush administration stand in part by declaring: “You cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements. That is just for me an absolute. That is the United States government’s position; that is the president-elect’s position.”

Clinton offered no specifics on how she will try to end the fighting between Israel and Hamas, a task she will confront as soon as she takes office.

Elsewhere, Clinton expressed Obama’s view on the need for a diplomatic overture to Iran, as well as new contacts with Syria. But she demurred when asked for specific plans, and emphasized that the incoming administration did not intend to ease pressure on Tehran to halt its nuclear program.

And there too she echoed the Bush administration in referring to the possibility of military action, saying that “no option is off the table.”

She noted that Obama had described the possibility of an Iranian atomic bomb with the same term used by President Bush: “Unacceptable.”

She said the six-nation negotiations concerning North Korea organized by the Bush team were a “framework that the president-elect and I believe works.”

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On Iraq, Clinton seemed to be preserving her options when asked by Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) about plans to remove all U.S. combat troops within 16 months.

Clinton said Obama intended to remove combat troops “safely and responsibly, as soon as possible.” She said troops would be moved out of cities and towns “hopefully by June.”

During the presidential campaign, Clinton called for a no-fly zone over Darfur in Sudan to prevent the Sudanese government and its allies from conducting air attacks. On Tuesday, she was more cautious, saying the national security team was assembling “available and workable” options.

She voiced support for international institutions such as the United Nations, but said that in cases in which they didn’t perform well, the U.S. should work with allies for reforms.

She said an expanded U.S. diplomatic corps could take on jobs around the world that in recent years have fallen to the much larger Pentagon. Clinton, Gates and other current and former government officials think that in many countries, foreign service officials can perform nonmilitary jobs more efficiently and less expensively.

She repeatedly criticized Bush but had warm words for the outgoing president in some areas. She praised his work for world AIDS relief and cited First Lady Laura Bush’s initiative on human rights for Afghan women.

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paul.richter@latimes.com


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