World breathes sigh of relief, Hillary Clinton says

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that world leaders were joining in a collective sigh of relief as President Obama’s foreign policy team begins dismantling the policies of the Bush administration.

“There’s a great exhalation of breath going on around the world as people express their appreciation for the new direction that’s being set, and the team that’s put together by the president to carry out our foreign policy goals,” Clinton said after telephoning dozens of world leaders in her first five days on the job. “We have a lot of damage to repair.”

The Obama administration has already named special emissaries to the Middle East and South Asia and sent the Mideast envoy, George J. Mitchell, on an inaugural overseas trip. Obama has repeatedly emphasized his wish to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and has promised a major address to the Muslim world, from somewhere abroad, before June.

He has also issued orders to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and abolish harsh interrogation practices.

Clinton, appearing for the first time in the State Department press room, said the various overtures had been successful in building goodwill.


“In areas of the world that have felt either overlooked, or not receiving appropriate attention for the problems they are experiencing, there’s a welcoming of the engagement that we are promising,” she said.

She also said the administration was reviewing past approaches and would be “rolling out ideas and plans as we go forward.” And she hinted that the new administration might change at least some aspects of its predecessor’s diplomatic approaches to Iran and North Korea.

She said the administration would “monitor” international talks over Iran’s nuclear program, which are to reconvene next week. Regarding North Korea, she said the six-party negotiation process put in place under President Bush remained “essential.” But she stopped short of endorsing his approach.

“We are going to pursue steps that we think are effective,” she said.

She avoided saying whether the United States intended to make a diplomatic overture to Syria, saying that, for the moment, the administration was focused on working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She promised continuity from the Bush years in some areas. In a phone call with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, she reinforced the U.S. commitment to a “democratic and sovereign Iraq” and the importance of the provincial elections scheduled for this weekend.

On China, an area where the Bush administration generally has been praised, she said a more “comprehensive” approach was needed. She didn’t elaborate.

Clinton had called 37 world leaders by midday Tuesday, including four from Israel. She denied that the Obama foreign policy team, which includes skilled and strong-willed figures who were on opposing sides of last year’s presidential primary campaign, could get bogged down in feuding.

“We’ve already established a collegial, effective working relationship,” she said.