Image: U.N. Ambassador-designate Susan Rice
Kevin Wolf  /  AP
U.N. Ambassador-designate Susan Rice testifies on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
updated 1/16/2009 9:22:14 AM ET 2009-01-16T14:22:14

President-elect Barack Obama's choice for U.S. envoy to the United Nations told lawmakers Thursday that she will work to strengthen "an indispensable if imperfect" institution.

Susan Rice said at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she realizes that many Americans are deeply frustrated by the organization. But, she said, terrorism, nuclear weapons, genocide, poverty, climate change and disease are "global challenges that no single nation can defeat alone.

"They require common action, based on a common purpose," she said.

U.S. officials and lawmakers have called for changes at the U.N. and have leveled charges of corruption and mismanagement. Many around the world, however, believe the Bush administration did not have a strong commitment to working with other countries and that U.S. power as the world's richest nation and a veto-wielding member of the Security Council has been disproportionate.

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Rice is expected to be confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., which Obama has decided to elevate to a Cabinet position.

Rice, who served in the Clinton administration as assistant secretary of state for Africa, said Obama believes the United Nations is "an indispensable if imperfect institution for advancing America's security and well-being in the 21st century."

"The goal of our diplomacy at the United Nations must be to make it a more perfect forum to address the most pressing global challenges," she said. The "U.N. sometimes deeply frustrates Americans, and I am aware of its shortcomings, yet all nations understand the importance of this organization."

This understanding, she said, is why countries like Cuba, Sudan and North Korea try to render the U.N. human rights council "ineffective and objectionable," why efforts to pass Security Council resolutions on abuses in Myanmar and Zimbabwe spark intense debate, and why many try to use the U.N. "willfully and unfairly to condemn our ally Israel."

Republican Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana said U.N. influence comes "from the credibility associated with countries acting together in a well-established forum with well-established rules.

"Scandals, mismanagement and bureaucratic stonewalling squander this precious resource," he said.

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