At Hearing, Obama's U.N. Pick Decries Disunity

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

United Nations ambassador-designate Susan E. Rice said yesterday she would seek to improve what she called "an indispensable if imperfect institution" while seeking "strong international partnerships" on a range of issues.

"The United States will address all these challenges unencumbered by the old divisions of the 20th century," Rice said in her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We cannot afford to be burdened with labels such as 'rich' or 'poor,' 'developed' or 'developing,' 'North' or 'South,' or the 'non-aligned movement.' In the 21st century, these false divisions rarely serve anyone's interests."

The 44-year-old foreign policy veteran promised a major shift on climate change policy from that of the Bush administration, saying the incoming administration would "engage vigorously" in U.N. climate-change talks.

She also said the administration of President-elect Barack Obama would work closely through the United Nations to prevent "the spread and use of nuclear weapons" and improve the organization's ability to manage complex peace operations.

Rice said it was "unacceptable" that the planned peacekeeping force for the conflict in Sudan's troubled Darfur region -- a situation the Bush administration has described as genocide -- was at only half its authorized strength. But she said that U.N. peacekeeping is "a deal compared to what we would spend if we did it ourselves," estimating a similar U.S. mission would cost about eight times more.

However, Rice appeared skeptical about a proposed peacekeeping force for Somalia, backed by the Bush administration, saying the incoming administration would have to take "a very careful and close look" at the plan.

Rice, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, was one of Obama's chief foreign policy aides during the presidential campaign. She served in a similar role for the committee chairman, John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, when he was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004. Rice, no relation to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was an assistant secretary of state for Africa and a White House aide during the Clinton administration.

Rice was greeted warmly by the senators and there appeared to be no obstacles to a speedy confirmation.

The committee yesterday also overwhelmingly backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to be the next secretary of state. The panel voted 16 to 1 to send her nomination to the Senate floor, where she is not expected to face any obstacles to full confirmation. The former first lady fielded few tough questions at her confirmation hearing Tuesday, as Democrats and Republicans alike praised her intellect and abilities.

The sole negative vote was from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who said he was concerned about the overseas charitable fundraising activities of her husband, former president Bill Clinton. He decried the former president's foundation as a "multimillion dollar minefield of conflicts of interest."

In a deal with the transition team, the former president agreed to annually release the names of overseas donors. Sen. Clinton shrugged off calls from some committee members to amend the agreement in order to provide greater and more timely disclosure of overseas contributions during her tenure as secretary.

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