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No Stumbling Block Expected At Clinton Hearing

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. With a new administration coming to power next week, the Senate this week is busy holding confirmation hearings. We'll hear about the prospective energy secretary in a moment. But first, Hillary Clinton is expected to have a fairly easy confirmation process to be the next secretary of state. Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee are promising, though, to quiz her about foreign donors to her husband's charitable foundation. And she'll get plenty of questions about the Middle East and other hot spots, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When Hillary Rodham Clinton was formally nominated as secretary of state last year, she joked about how being a senator from New York helped prepare her for the job.

INSKEEP: After all, New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their minds, and do so in every language.

KELEMEN: Being a senator may also make things go more smoothly for her today, as she's among friends and colleagues. Senator Clinton met with as many committee members as possible before the hearings. The message she's been sending is one of a new approach in foreign policy.

INSKEEP: Our security, our values and our interests cannot be protected and advanced by force alone - nor, indeed, by Americans alone. We must pursue vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries, more opportunities and fewer dangers for all who seek freedom, peace and prosperity.

KELEMEN: Her aides say she brushed up on the issues in meetings with top diplomats, including the State Department's number three official, William Burns, who's expected to keep his job. She's also been making plans to bring back familiar faces and some foreign policy heavyweights to her State Department, if confirmed. Former President Clinton's Bosnia negotiator, Richard Holbrooke, is expected to be an adviser. And former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross is to deal with Iran and, perhaps more broadly, Middle East issues. A former ambassador to Israel, Sam Louis, says there are no great mysteries about these advisers. He's predicting the approach to the Middle East will be similar to that of the Clinton administration, though different from the Bush administration.

MONTAGNE: It'll be more multilateral. It will be less arrogant, I think. Less, this is what you have to do and when you do it, then we'll think about talking to you - which has really been the Bush approach towards Syria and Iran both. I don't know if it will be different about Hamas. I think they'll stay with the same policy, pretty much, on Hamas for the time being.

KELEMEN: Israel's war in Gaza against Hamas - which the U.S. considers a terrorist group - is sure to be a topic at the confirmation hearing. Senator Clinton may also be asked about the State Department's role in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq, and what she'll do about U.S. foreign aid in these tough economic times. Georgetown Professor Carol Lancaster, who was a top aid official during the Clinton administration, thinks Senator Clinton, if confirmed, will want to present another face of America to the world.

INSKEEP: I think she will try, in more than just words, to elevate development. It's one of the three D's we all talk about: defense, diplomacy and development. I think we have yet to realize - I think she - I think she'll want to do that.

KELEMEN: And this is one area where Mrs. Clinton does have a strong background, according to Lancaster, who co-chaired a working group on development for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

INSKEEP: She understands the development issue like no other secretary of state I've known - and I've served under five or six of them - because she's seen it. She - every time she made one of her trips when she was first lady, she would go and look at aid projects. She would meet with people, including women. That's also, obviously, a very strong interest of hers, women's empowerment. And she'd give speeches on it.

KELEMEN: There is a related question that senators have been asking: whether international donations to former President Bill Clinton's charitable foundation will lead to any conflict of interest for a Secretary of State Clinton. The former president has released his donor list, and has agreed to let State Department ethics lawyers look over speeches and future donations. Senators of the Foreign Relations Committee will want to know just how that will work. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.