Clinton faces touch challenges in new role

January 13, 2009 8:08:17 PM PST
Senator Hillary Clinton looks to be headed to an easy confirmation as secretary of state. She received a warm welcome at her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Gaza, North Korea, China, Russia... the diplomatic challenges facing the United States are enormous. However, the hardest question Clinton faced Tuesday was not about any of those.

At ease among her Senate colleagues, Clinton was more than prepared to talk about diplomatic priorities.

"Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East remain in the forefront of the challenges the new administration will face," said Clinton.

Her greatest single concern is nuclear weapons proliferation.

"I mean, this is the number one threat we face. There is no doubt in my mind," said Clinton who believes a nuclear Iran would be unacceptable. "And so our task will be to try to figure out the appropriate and effective pressure that will perhaps lead to us dissuading Iran from going forward."

Clinton said no option is off the table when it comes to Iran. But the head of Iranian studies at Stanford University, Professor Abbas Milani, believes a military option is not viable.

"And I think it would be a grievously wrong idea now to try to have a military solution to this problem. This must have a political solution," said Milani.

Milani says Clinton is certainly up to the job. However, it is President-elect Barack Obama, not Clinton, that holds the biggest promise as a mediator in the Middle East.

Larry Diamond, a foreign policy expert and advisor to the United Nations and the State Department, says Clinton is uniquely qualified.

"I think one of the things that has come through in the hearings today is that she's not only been very well briefed, but she is beyond the briefings deeply knowledgeable about the world," said Diamond.

The only tough questioning Clinton faced involved donations to her husband's foundation.

"The foundation exists as a temptation to any foreign entity or government that believes it can curry favor though a donation," said Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana.

Clinton responded that the government ethics office found no inherent conflict of interest.

"My husband doesn't take a salary, he has no financial interest in any of this. I don't take a salary, I have no financial interest," said Clinton.

Clinton said donations to her husband's foundation will be disclosed.

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California was among those on both sides of the aisle strongly in support of her confirmation.

"You are working with your toughest rival and you've set your ego aside for world peace, world stability and for the good of the country," said Boxer.

The Foreign Relations Committee plans to vote on Clinton on Thursday.