ROBERT BURNS and ANNE FLAHERTY Associated Press Writers WASHINGTON
Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton called this morning 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 American 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," she 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." 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." Clinton also promised to push for stronger U.S. alliances around the globe. "We must build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries," said the woman that Obama took for his administration's leading diplomatic job. "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. 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, former President Bill Clinton, was not present. 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. Clinton appeared set to sail smoothly toward confirmation, despite concerns among some lawmakers that the global fundraising of her husband could pose ethical conflicts for her as secretary of state. Her husband was not present at the hearing.