Senate panel backs Clinton as secretary of State

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted
overwhelmingly on Thursday for Hillary Rodham Clinton to become the
next secretary of State, endorsing President-elect Barack Obama's
promise to take U.S. foreign policy in a new direction.

The 16-1 committee vote paves the way for a full Senate vote
after Obama takes office on Jan. 20. Clinton is not expected to hit
any major roadblocks, with Republicans and Democrats alike praising
her acumen on the issues.

But concerns about her husband's charitable fundraising overseas
remain. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, who was among several
Republicans who raised the issue at her confirmation hearing
earlier this week, cast the lone opposing vote.

In a statement released by Vitter's office shortly after the
vote, he called former President Bill Clinton's foundation a
"multimillion dollar minefield of conflicts of interest."
"This could produce explosions at any minute, particularly
concerning the Middle East where we least need them," Vitter said.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he too remains wary that
contributions to the Clinton charity could pose a problem. But, he
added, he wouldn't stand in the way of her appointment and noted
that Clinton could become one of the nation's best secretaries of
State to date.

Her departure from the Senate has been closely watched because
it would give New York Gov. David Paterson, a fellow Democrat, the
power to appoint her successor. Caroline Kennedy, the scion of a
political dynasty, wants the job.

Clinton told the panel earlier this week that the U.S. must
elevate the role of foreign policy and diplomacy in handling tough
problems.

"America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own,
and the world cannot solve them without America," she said. "The
best way to advance America's interest in reducing global threats
and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global
solutions. This isn't a philosophical point. This is our reality."

On Iraq, Clinton said ending the war is a priority. The first
step will be moving troops out of cities by June, in line with an
agreement already established between the Bush administration and
the Iraqi government. The agreement calls for all U.S. troops to be
gone by the end of 2011. Obama has said he believes the withdrawal
can be accomplished more quickly.

Her testimony invigorated lawmakers, who said they agree that
old-fashioned diplomacy must make a comeback in a U.S. agenda
dominated by war.

"Our nation needs to put proactively more sandals and sneakers
on the ground, in order to prevent having to put boots and bayonets
on the ground in the future," said Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo.

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Foreign Relations Committee's
top Republican, has proposed that Bill Clinton's foundation reject
any overseas contributions and take other steps to improve
transparency.

Clinton rejected Lugar's ideas, contending that her agreement to
publish an annual list of the foundation's donors and alert ethics
officials to potential conflicts of interest already goes above and
beyond any ethics regulations.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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