Hillary Clinton confirmed as secretary of state

US senators voted 94-2 to confirm Hillary Clinton's appointment as US President Barack Obama's secretary of state. As the new top diplomat she will tackle foreign policy issues including Arab-Israeli peace, climate change and Iran.


AFP - Hillary Clinton on Wednesday became US 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.

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

Clinton, a former Obama presidential campaign rival and wife of former president Bill Clinton, was confirmed as secretary of state in a 94-2 vote by fellow senators.

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 him "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, an outgoing Democratic senator from New York, were Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina and David Vitter of Louisiana.

Welcome signs for Clinton were already posted at the State Department, set to host a ceremony early Thursday. "Welcoming Secretary Clinton to the department," one read.

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.

"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 will 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 condition for opening a dialogue with Tehran.

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

"The elections should not prevent us from starting a dialogue if we determine that there is a genuine intent to engage," she said in written testimony, which was more specific than her verbal remarks to Congress.

In her written remarks, 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.

"We will exert every effort to support the work of Israelis and Palestinians who seek that result," she said.

On his first morning in the White House, Obama spoke by telephone with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and two other Arab leaders to signal that the new administration 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.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning