Clinton Reiterates U.S. Commitment to 'Robust' Rights Agenda

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, under fire for some of her recent remarks on human rights, insisted yesterday that the Obama administration regards the issue at the same level as economics and international security.

"A mutual and collective commitment to human rights is [as] important to bettering our world as our efforts on security, global economics, energy, climate change and other pressing issues," Clinton told reporters after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at the State Department. She said she had raised with Yang the issue of Tibet and a resumption of a U.S.-China human rights dialogue.

"The Obama administration is absolutely committed to a robust, comprehensive human rights agenda," she said. "We're going to look for ways where we can be effective, where we can actually produce outcomes that will matter in the lives of people who are struggling for their rights to be full participants in their societies."

Last month, during her first trip as chief U.S. diplomat to Asia, Clinton provoked human rights activists by saying that pressing China on that issue "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis." On matters such as greater freedom for Tibetans, Clinton said, "We pretty much know what [Beijing is] going to say."

Then, while traveling in the Middle East last week, Clinton appeared to play down human rights issues in Egypt and Turkey that had been raised in recent State Department reports, earning her further criticism.

"She has missed unique opportunities," said Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), one of the leading congressional voices on human rights. Secretary of State Condoleezza "Rice started out strong and ended weak," he said. "But Secretary Clinton is starting out weak."

Human rights activists were further upset Tuesday by the State Department releasing a statement on Tibet in the name of spokesman Robert A. Wood, after Wood had announced hours earlier that it would be issued in Clinton's name, on the eve of her meeting with Yang. Foreign governments tend to give greater weight to statements issued in the name of the secretary of state or the president, rather than spokesmen or press secretaries.

Wood refused yesterday to discuss "internal deliberations" of the State Department and said: "The statement that we issued last night has the full weight of the secretary. It was cleared by the secretary, and it represents the secretary's views."

Department officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal deliberations, said the original announcement was an error. They noted that State had never issued a statement on the anniversary of Tibet's failed uprising against Chinese rule but that on the 50th anniversary, Clinton wanted such a statement despite the awkward timing of the Yang meeting. The meeting was scheduled mostly to discuss planning for the April 2 Group of 20 summit, which will focus on the world economic crisis.

The statement was issued in Wood's name because Clinton decided to address the media herself after the session with Yang, officials said.

Some sources said a draft statement on Tibet was more detailed and explicit, urging, for instance, the release of Tibetan prisoners. But other officials disagreed, saying that those elements were not in the statement when it reached Clinton's office and that she personally strengthened parts of it.

Wang is scheduled to meet today with President Obama at the White House, officials said yesterday.

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