Clinton announces dawn of 'smart power'

America will now exercise its muscle abroad according to the facts not emotion, Hillary Clinton tells the Senate

Hillary Clinton served notice at her much-anticipated Senate confirmation hearing that as the next Secretary of State she would cast aside an era of "rigid ideology" in American diplomacy to guide a foreign policy of "smart power" based on a marriage of principle and pragmatism.

Making little secret of her belief that America's global standing has been harmed by the foreign policy priorities of the administration of President George Bush, Mrs Clinton said she would make decisions based "on facts and evidence, not emotions or prejudice". She was accompanied to yesterday's hearing by her daughter, Chelsea.

While concerns were raised by some of the senators about foreign governments or individuals attempting to purchase influence with Mrs Clinton by donating funds to the charitable foundation and library of her husband, the former President Bill Clinton, the atmosphere in the hearing was hardly confrontational. Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are likely to vote to confirm Mrs Clinton in the job as early as tomorrow.

Among senators paying Mrs Clinton generous praise was the committee chairman, John Kerry. "She will take office on a first-name basis with numerous heads of state and also with billions of people in every corner of the globe," he noted. "Her presence will send a strong signal overseas immediately that America is back."

Republicans chimed in with words that added to the impression that Mrs Clinton will sail into the job without controversy. "She is fully prepared to engage the world on a myriad of issues that urgently require attention," remarked Senator Richard Lugar, the most senior Republican on the committee.

Of all Barack Obama's cabinet picks, none have elicited more excitement than his selection of Mrs Clinton as America's top diplomat. The two fought each other to exhaustion and beyond during the primary season for the presidential nomination and during the struggle Mrs Clinton repeatedly scorned Mr Obama for his relative lack of experience in foreign affairs, notably with her hard-hitting TV advert asking whether Americans wouldn't be more comfortable with her answering 3am crisis calls.

As Secretary of State, the task of tackling those crises will fall primarily on Mrs Clinton. And she gave an impressive display of knowledge on issues ranging from the nuclear stand-off with Iran to violence in the Middle East and relations with China and Russia.

As foreign ministries around the world scoured her statement and answers for clues as to what they might expect from a Clinton State Department, some brows may have furrowed in London over a line suggesting that in Europe, Britain may not always be the first country she turns to.

"The new administration will reach out across the Atlantic to leaders in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and others, including the new democracies," she said. "When America and Europe work together, global objectives are well within our means."

Underscoring the conflict of interest risks regarding Mr Clinton's foundation, which works notably to combat HIV-Aids in Africa and promote action to curb global warming, Mr Lugar said it would have to stop taking donations from foreign sources if Mrs Clinton serves as Secretary of State.

"Foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favour with the Secretary of State," Senator Lugar declared. "Every new foreign donation accepted by the foundation comes with the risk that it will be connected in the global media to a proximate State Department policy or decision."

Some of Mrs Clinton's remarks reflected promises made by Mr Obama during the election campaign. She reminded them that she and the President-elect were "committed to responsibly ending the war in Iraq and employing a broad strategy in Afghanistan that reduces threats to our safety."

She promised a State Department "firing on all cylinders to provide forward-thinking, sustained diplomacy in every part of the world". She added that the new administration would seek to re-energise peace efforts in the Middle East and spoke about Gaza.

"The President-elect and I are deeply sympathetic to Israel's desire to defend itself and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets," Mrs Clinton told the hearing. "However, we have been reminded of the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East and pained by the suffering of civilians."

Clinton takes a view on her in-tray

Israel/Palestine

What she says:

"A just and lasting peace agreement" that brings "real security to Israel; normal and positive relations with its neighbours; and independence, economic progress, and security to the Palestinians in their own state... We cannot negotiate with Hamas until it recognises Israel, renouncesviolence and agrees to abide by previous agreements."

What she means:

Don't expect much change from Bush but new emphasis on "constructive role" by Iran and Syria.

Iran

What she says:

"We will pursue a new,different approach... [US policy will be] to do everything we can to prevent Iranfrom becoming a nuclear weapon state. As I also said, no option is off the table."

What she means:

New approach will emerge from policy review, but behind the rhetoric, the bottom line on possible military action is the same as Bush.

Darfur

What she says:

"There is a great need forus to sound the alarm again about Darfur. It is a terrible humanitarian crisis compounded by a corrupt and very cruel regime."

What she means:

Could be a toughening of US position after policy review.

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