Bloomberg: Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton pledged to use American “smart power” to renew the nation’s international leadership, wielding diplomacy as the main tool in dealing with trouble spots from Iran to Russia.
By Viola Gienger and Ken Fireman
Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) — Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton pledged to use American “smart power” to renew the nation’s international leadership, wielding diplomacy as the main tool in dealing with trouble spots from Iran to Russia.
In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering her nomination, Clinton promised to link diplomacy with military and economic power in a “marriage of principles and pragmatism.”
Clinton said the U.S. would seek to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons by using diplomacy, sanctions and coalitions with other concerned countries. She said steps would be shaped in consultation with U.S. allies.
“We will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude toward engagement that might bear fruit,” she said. President-elect Barack Obama “is committed to that course and we will pursue it,” she said.
At the same time, she said an Iranian nuclear weapon was “unacceptable” and that the new administration wasn’t “taking any option off the table,” an allusion to the possibility of using military power if other means fail. She said it was “hard to predict” what policy options would work to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear bomb.
Clinton was responding to a question from the chairman of the committee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who said the time when Iran would be capable of building a nuclear weapon was “fast approaching.”
Clinton said Iran could make a gesture for improved relations by freeing retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared there in 2007.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said the U.S. believes Levinson is being held in an Iranian prison. Levinson went missing on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf during a business trip.
The State Department has called on multiple occasions for Iran to reveal any information it has on Levinson’s whereabouts and properly investigate the case.
“Out of human compassion, this is a great opportunity for a country like Iran” to demonstrate its desire to cooperate, Nelson said as he questioned Clinton, who agreed that it would be a “tremendous opportunity.”
Addressing the current conflict in the Gaza Strip, Clinton said that she and Obama are “deeply sympathetic to Israel’s desire to defend itself” from rocket attacks from the militant Hamas movement. At the same time, she said, “we have also been reminded of the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East.”
The fighting in the coastal enclave has left more than 900 Palestinians dead, according to medical officials in Gaza.
“This must only increase our determination to seek a just and lasting peace agreement that brings real security to Israel,” Clinton told the panel. An accord also should provide “normal and positive relations” with Israel’s neighbors and “independence, economic progress and security to the Palestinians in their own state,” she said.
Clinton said Obama would maintain current U.S. policy and not engage in talks with Hamas.
“We cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements,” she told the committee in response to a question. “That is just, for me, an absolute,” she said.
Israel will press forward with its military operations against Hamas, while keeping “an open eye” on diplomatic efforts under way to end the 18-day-old conflict, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. Hamas leaders in Gaza and Damascus vowed to keep fighting, while leaving the door open to a cease- fire plan proposed by Egypt.
Touching on other foreign policy troubles, Clinton said the U.S. would seek “cooperative engagement” with Russia, while standing up for U.S. values and “international norms.” U.S.- Russia ties remain strained after last year’s conflict between American ally Georgia and Russia.
Clinton said the current natural-gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine underscores the importance of energy security. She said Russia is seeking to create a “gas equivalent” of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as a way of increasing its power in the world.
“It certainly is a significant security challenge that we ignore at our peril,” she said.
North Korea Review
On North Korea, Clinton said the incoming administration is reviewing the six-nation negotiating approach led by China and the U.S. that President George W. Bush used in an attempt to end the regime’s nuclear-arms development. Clinton said there may be an opportunity for more direct dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea.
In the hearing, Clinton carried a burden of parrying a broad range of questions from a mostly supportive panel without cornering the incoming administration.
As the hearing opened, she won praise from both Democrat Kerry and the panel’s ranking Republican, Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana.
Lugar called her “the epitome of a big-leaguer.” Kerry lauded her “immense curiosity, her quick and impressive grasp of detail, and her authoritative approach.”
Both senators expressed support for negotiating a new strategic arms control agreement with Russia when the current treaty expires later this year.
Clinton, 61, had prepared for the hearing by turning to former secretaries of state and seasoned diplomats who worked for her husband, President Bill Clinton.
A point of tension in today’s hearing is ethics concerns about donations from foreign governments and individuals to her husband’s presidential library and charitable projects.
Both Lugar and Kerry called on the foundation to stop taking foreign contributions to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.
“The Clinton Foundation exists as a temptation for any foreign entity or government that believes it could curry favor through a donation,” Lugar 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.”
At the same time, Lugar laid out an alternative path that would allow the foundation to keep accepting foreign contributions under conditions of greater transparency.
Those conditions include immediately disclosing any donation of $50,000 from any source, revealing any pledge of $50,000 or more from a foreign entity, submitting foreign donations of $50,000 or more to a State Department ethics review and committing to provide a “distinct list” of donors and amounts each year.
Lugar said the existing agreement between the foundation and the incoming administration calls only for donations to be disclosed annually rather than immediately and doesn’t specify “the format of the disclosure.”
Bill Clinton’s foundation got at least $41 million from foreign nations such as Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer, and government-run groups. Foreign businessmen in the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, South Asia and Africa also contributed.