Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who lost to Bush in the presidential election, parried frequently with Rice, staying late into the evening to question her even after most of the other senators had left.
"We went in to rescue Iraq from Saddam Hussein," said Kerry, who had strongly criticized the administration's Iraq policy during the campaign. "Now I think we have to rescue our policy from ourselves."
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), left, with Foreign Relations Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), questions Rice.
(Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
The situation in Iraq "was always going to have ups and downs," Rice replied. "I'm sure that we have multiple, many decisions -- some of which were good, some of which might not have been good. But the strategic decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was the right one."
In her opening statement, Rice cited "outposts of tyranny" in the world, including North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Burma. In her testimony, she also lambasted the Venezuelan government and warned Syria that its behavior "could unfortunately lead to long-term bad relations with the United States."
Rice broke no new ground in how the administration plans to deal with the nuclear threats posed by North Korea and Iran. She reiterated that the administration is willing to participate in multilateral security guarantees for Pyongyang but said North Korea must give up its nuclear programs "verifiably and irreversibly."
On the quest for peace in the Middle East, Rice said the recent election of a Palestinian leader created an opportunity "and we must seize it." Powell and Bush in the first term generally avoided deep involvement in the conflict, but Rice told the committee: "I expect myself to spend an enormous amount of effort on this activity."
Rice said the administration, along with Egypt and Jordan, will work to restructure Palestinian security forces, though she declined to estimate the cost of the effort.
She reiterated the administration's position that the Palestinian leadership must act to root out terrorism and that Israel must improve conditions for Palestinians. But she added that Arab states have a role, too: "They can't incite violence against Israel on one hand and call for peace with a two-state solution on the other."