Image: Sen. Hillary Clinton is seated at the hearing
Susan Walsh  /  AP
Secretary of State-designate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., takes her seat on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday, prior to the start of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on her nomination.
updated 1/14/2009 8:16:37 AM ET 2009-01-14T13:16:37

Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton called Tuesday for a "smart power" strategy in the Middle East that goes beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to address other pressing issues like Iran's nuclear program.

While offering no specific new peace proposal, Clinton spoke confidently of President-elect Barack Obama's intentions to renew U.S. leadership in the world and to strengthen U.S. diplomacy.

"As intractable as the Middle East's problems may seem and many presidents, including my husband, have spent years trying to help work out a resolution, we cannot give up on peace," the wife of former President Bill Clinton told her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The President-elect and I understand and are deeply sympathetic to Israel's desire to defend itself under the current conditions, and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets."

"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," she said. "This must only increase our determination to seek a just and lasting peace agreement that brings real security to Israel; normal and positive relations with its neighbors; and independence, economic progress, and security to the Palestinians in their own state." Video: Secretary of State Rice discusses the world's hotspots

The panel's top Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar, praised Clinton, calling her "the epitome of a big leaguer" who is fully qualified for the job and whose presence at the State Department could open new opportunities for American diplomacy, including the possibility of improving the United States' image in the world.

But Lugar also raised questions about the issue of her husband's fundraising work and its relation to his wife's new post. Lugar said that the only way for Clinton to avoid a potential conflict of interest due to her husband's charity is to forswear any new foreign contributions. The Indiana senator said the situation poses a "unique complication" that requires "great care and transparency."

"The Clinton Foundation exists as a temptation for any foreign entity or government that believes it could curry favor through a donation," he said. "It also sets up potential perception problems with any action taken by the secretary of state in relation to foreign givers or their countries."

Looked at ease
Clinton spoke in a clear, unhurried voice and looked at ease as she read a long introductory statement. She sat alone at a small, black-draped desk, with daughter Chelsea and a retinue of advisers behind her. Her husband was not present. Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said the former president was watching the hearing elsewhere with his wife's mother.

"President Clinton wanted to make sure the attention was focused on Sen. Clinton," Vietor said.

The Senate hearing room was packed with ambassadors, current and former diplomats, supporters and aides sitting cheek by jowl. Dozens of photographers ringed Clinton as she spoke.

The Senate also was holding confirmation hearings for four other Obama choices for Cabinet and top White House positions. Appearing were Peter Orszag, to head the Office of Management and Budget, and Robert Nabors II, for deputy director of OMB; New York housing official Shaun Donovan, to be secretary of housing and urban development; Steven Chu, to head the Energy Department; and Arne Duncan, as education secretary.

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Chu promised that if confirmed as energy secretary he will aggressively pursue policies aimed at addressing climate change and achieving greater energy independence by developing clean energy sources.

Quizzed on Iran, Iraq
Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat and the new chairman of the committee, pressed Clinton on whether Obama, once her rival for the Democratic party's presidential nomination, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as unacceptable at any cost, or merely undesirable.

Clinton responded: "The president-elect has said repeatedly it is unacceptable. It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy — with all of its (tools) — to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state. As I also said, no option is off the table."

On Iraq, Clinton said ending the war is a priority. The first step will be moving troops out of cities by June, in line with an agreement already established between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government. The agreement calls for all U.S. troops to be gone by the end of 2011. Obama has said he believes the withdrawal can be accomplished more quickly.

"It is being done within the context of the status of forces agreement, which (has) now clearly set forth the path that both the Iraqi government and the United States government intend to follow," Clinton said. "There is some differences in timing but the important aspect of the so-called SOFA is that the United States government and President Obama will be withdrawing troops and the Iraqi government not only accepts that but wishes to facilitate that."

She said the new administration would pursue a broader approach to the problem of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power in the Middle East that addresses the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political and economic aspirations of the Palestinians; that effectively challenges Iran to end its nuclear weapons program and sponsorship of terror, and persuades both Iran and Syria to abandon their dangerous behavior and become constructive regional actors; that strengthens our relationships with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, other Arab states, with Turkey, and with our partners in the Gulf to involve them in securing a lasting peace in the region."

Push for stronger international alliances
Clinton also promised to push for stronger U.S. alliances around the globe.

"America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own," Clinton said, "and the world cannot solve them without America."

She credited Secretary of Defense Robert Gates with stimulating debate about the role of diplomacy and other civilian institutions' role in fighting the global war on terror, endorsing his call for providing the State Department with more resources and a bigger budget.

She assured the committee that if confirmed, the State Department "will be firing on all cylinders" — applying pressure when needed and looking for opportunities to advancing U.S. interests.

"Today's security threats cannot be addressed in isolation," she said. "Smart power requires reaching out to both friends and adversaries, to bolster old alliances and to forge new ones. That means strengthening the alliances that have stood the test of time — especially with our NATO partners and our allies in Asia."

The Foreign Relations Committee planned to vote on Clinton's nomination on Thursday. If it approves her, she could gain full Senate confirmation as early as the Jan. 20 Inauguration Day.

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Video: Sailing into office, Clinton faces headwinds

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