ANNE FLAHERTY Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
Hillary Rodham Clinton assumed her role as secretary of State today with a pledge to State Department employees that they would be at the leading edge of improving U.S. foreign relations. "This is a new era," she declared at a welcoming ceremony where hundreds of department employees applauded and cheered as she arrived for her first day of work. "There are three legs to the stool of American foreign policy: defense, diplomacy and development, and we are responsible for two of the three legs," said the former New York senator and onetime first lady. "And we will make clear as we go forward that diplomacy and development are essential tools in achieving the long-term objectives of the United States." Clinton's mandate from President Barack Obama is to step up diplomatic efforts and restore the nation's tattered image abroad. Her appointment, confirmed by the Senate and sealed in a private ceremony in her Senate office on Wednesday, came as Obama moved quickly in his first day in office to shore up a team of seasoned advisers and take the nation's foreign policy in a new direction. Obama prepared to name former Senate Democratic leader George J. Mitchell as Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East, and he placed telephone calls to leaders overseas. The new administration also drafted executive orders to close the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, review military trials of terror suspects and end harsh interrogations. Obama was to join Clinton at the State Department today, where the two were to address department employees. Obama, Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and national security adviser James Jones were to convene a closed-door meeting beforehand. After being confirmed 94-2 by the Senate on Wednesday, Clinton delivered letters of resignation to Vice President Joe Biden, as president of the Senate, and New York Gov. David Paterson, who will chose her replacement. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said her swift confirmation was an imperative. "We face two wars abroad, a complex and unpredictable crisis in the Middle East, the nuclear ambitions of a volatile Iranian regime, together with the complexities of dealing with North Korea," he said. While Republicans agreed that Obama should be allowed to quickly pull together his Cabinet, some remained skeptical about his plans to revamp the nation's policies on such wartime issues as detainees. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who challenged the Bush administration's detainee policy in 2006 and helped write legislation governing the new court system, said he agrees that Guantanamo Bay should be closed and a new secure location found. But "the prison is not the problem," Graham said in a recent interview. "For all the challenges facing the nation, finding a place to put (military prisoners) is not the issue. ... Before we move them, we need to know what's going to happen to them." Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he was concerned that Obama and Clinton would reverse the U.S. policy that prohibits U.S. aid to overseas groups that offer abortions. "I do not plan to slow up this nomination, but I do find it difficult to support a nominee who I know will pursue policies so contrary to American sovereignty and the dignity of the human person," DeMint said, shortly before voting with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., against Clinton's appointment.