Clinton confirmed as new US chief diplomat

Hillary Clinton on Wednesday became President Barack Obama's top diplomat after pledging to fight climate change, push hard for Arab-Israeli peace and take a new approach to US foes like Iran.

This US Department of State photograph shows Hillary Rodham Clinton (L) being sworn in as the next US Secretary of State in her Senate office by Associate Judge Kathleen Oberly (R) on January 21, 2009 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo)

The confirmation came on Obama's first full day in office.

Clinton, a former Obama presidential campaign rival, was confirmed as secretary of state in a 94-2 vote in the Senate and was sworn into office in a ceremony attended by her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

The first "aye" vote came from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, who made an impassioned speech on Clinton's behalf and declared that Obama had promised "to be serious" about battling climate change.

"We are staring at an abyss of irreversibility," Kerry warned, adding that he had discussed the problem with Obama and "he intends to be serious about it."

Kerry also listed unfinished wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the stalled Middle East peace process, conflicts in Africa and efforts to revamp the tarnished US image overseas among top foreign policy priorities.

The only two dissenters in the vote over Clinton, who served two terms as a Democratic senator from New York, were Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina and David Vitter of Louisiana.

Greetings awaited Clinton at the State Department, set to host a ceremony early Thursday. "Welcoming Secretary Clinton to the department," one sign read.

US ally Australia was quick to welcome the appointment, describing Clinton as bringing "a wealth of experience, expertise and dedication" to the job.

"Australia could have no better partner than Secretary Clinton in advancing the causes of peace and prosperity in our own region and globally in the years ahead," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in a statement.

At her confirmation hearing a week ago, Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Obama will lead "a global and coordinated response" to combat climate change, which she called a threat to national security.

"At the extreme it threatens our very existence but well before that point it could well incite new wars of an old kind over basic resources like food, water and arable land," said Clinton.

She said the United States would participate later this year in the UN Copenhagen Climate Conference and a global energy forum.

In a bid to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Clinton told the committee that the Obama administration would pursue "an attitude toward engagement that might bear fruit."

But Clinton, 61, did not mention whether Washington would set conditions for such a change in US policy after nearly 30 years of official silence with Tehran.

Unlike her predecessor Condoleezza Rice, Clinton set no conditions for opening a dialogue with Tehran.

And in written testimony, Clinton even brushed aside concerns that starting a dialogue before the Iranian presidential election in June could bolster the hardliners led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Clinton also said she was ready to engage in a dialogue with Syria, a country with which Rice had strictly limited contacts.

"I believe that engaging directly with Syria increases the possibility of making progress in changing Syrian behavior," Clinton said.

She also said Israel's recent three-week war in Gaza had underscored her and Obama's determination to seek a just and lasting peace deal.

On his first morning in the White House, Obama spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and two other Arab leaders to show he would push for peace right from the start.

Obama has also asked former Northern Ireland peacemaker George Mitchell, 75, to serve as Middle East envoy, a source close to the administration told AFP.

Clinton has pledged to pursue a "very aggressive effort" against North Korea's alleged role in atomic weapons proliferation, but backed Rice's pursuit of multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang.

In a farewell speech on the Senate floor a week ago, Clinton advocated "smart power," a mix of diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural strategies.

Source: AFP

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