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At Confirmation Hearing, Clinton Talks of Engagement With Iran

Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton is calling for a strategy for achieving peace in the Middle East that goes beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a wider list of pressing issues. Video by AP

"We will not sit down for the sake of talking," Clinton wrote. "But we are willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at the time and place of our choosing -- if and only if -- it can advance the interest of the United States."

Condoleezza Rice, the outgoing secretary of state, defended the administration's approach to Iran in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday, arguing that it had put Iran on the defensive in the region.

"This isn't an issue of talk to Iranians, don't talk to Iranians," Rice said. "It is a question of what price the Iranians are trying to extract for engagement. Are they trying to extract a grand bargain in which Iran is acknowledged as a regional power without having given up the very policies that are destabilizing the region?"

Clinton reiterated that Obama is "committed to responsibly ending the war in Iraq and employing a broad strategy in Afghanistan that reduces threats to our safety and enhances the prospect of stability and peace." Her statement was nuanced and cautious, and it was perhaps most notable for what it did not say, including no mention of the need to win either war, a constant refrain of the current administration.

Clinton appeared most passionate when she spoke on a subject normally absent from the list of priorities for the nation's top diplomat -- the plight of the 2 billion people who earn less than $2 a day, especially women and girls, who she said "comprise the majority of the world's unhealthy, unschooled, unfed and unpaid."

Obama is equally concerned about the world's poor, Clinton said, noting that his mother, Ann Dunham, was a pioneer in microfinance in Indonesia, and observing that "the care and concern she showed for women and for poor people around the world mattered greatly to her son, our president-elect. And I believe that it has certainly informed his views and his vision."

Clinton gave little ground on questions about potential conflicts between Bill Clinton's charitable activities worldwide and the job of secretary of state. An agreement was reached under which the former president released the names of donors to his foundation, which has raised about $500 million, some of it from foreign governments. He also promised to provide annual updates of the donor list.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the senior Republican on the committee, gently suggested in his opening statement that the agreement be amended to provide even more information, including the immediate disclosure of all donations of $50,000 or more. "The bottom line is that even well-intentioned foreign donations carry risk for United States foreign policy," he said.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Sen. Clinton intervened at least six times in government issues directly affecting companies and others that later contributed to her husband's foundation. A Clinton spokesman and the companies involved dismissed the incidents as coincidental.

"I am hopeful that as we go through the history of this, that people will not say, 'Well, Senator Lugar . . . and others were prescient; they saw the problems,' " Lugar warned Clinton.

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