Washington, 23 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. Senate gave President Bill Clinton a belated inaugural gift Wednesday by overwhelmingly approving the nominees for two of the three most important foreign policy posts in his second term cabinet.
The Senate unanimously confirmed the appointments of Madeleine Albright as secretary of state and William Cohen as secretary of defense. Both are expected to assume office later today following a formal swearing-in ceremony at the White House.
Albright and Cohen are probably the two most popular choices Clinton has made for the Cabinet secretaries who will conduct the U.S. foreign and defense policies.
Albright will be the first woman secretary of state in U.S. history. She was born in Prague on May 15, 1937. She settled in the United States following the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. Her father, Josef Korbel, was ambassador to the United States and he was granted political asylum.
Clinton appointed her U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1993. She earned a reputation as a fearless defender of U.S. interests. Although some in Washington felt Albright was often too blunt to be secretary of state, Clinton liked her style, and so did the Senate.
In fact, even though Albright is a member of Clinton's Democratic Party, her swift confirmation was due largely to the effort of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a member of the Republican Party majority who is a frequent critic of Clinton's policies.
"She's a strong lady," Helms said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "She's a courageous lady." Helms, however, made it clear that he disagrees with most of Clinton's foreign policy.
"My support for the nomination should in no way be misconstrued as an endorsement of the Clinton foreign policy," Helms said.
Helms said he expects Albright to work with the Republican-controlled Congress to limit sending U.S. troops abroad, to reform the U.N. and to modernize the State Department.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, (D-California) the only woman on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Albright "holds a unique opportunity to conduct a bipartisan foreign policy."
"As the first woman to serve as secretary of state, Madeleine Albright's nomination will open up new doors for women -- not just in this country but around the world," Feinstein said.
The Senators also gave quick approval to Cohen, who is one of their former colleagues. Cohen is 56 years old and served in the U.S. Senate from 1978 until his retirement last year. He is a Republican and Clinton selected him to fulfill a pledge to create a bipartisan cabinet.
Cohen, however, is also an expert on defense issues because of his 18-year tenure on the Armed Services Committee.
Cohen went before the committee Wednesday, which then sent his nomination to the floor for a final vote.
In his testimony before the committee, Cohen said that pursuing the process of expanding the NATO alliance and building an improved relationship with Russia are among his top policy goals.
He also said that the United States must pay attention to threats that could develop in Asia or Europe.
"Hostile regimes, instability threaten our interests in key regions throughout the world, especially in southwest Asia, northeast Asia," Cohen said. "Instability, nationalism, ethnic tensions -- they pose dangers in Europe. The proliferations of weapons of mass destruction -- they threaten our interests, our forces and even our homeland."
The Senate has yet to hold confirmation hearings for the third key foreign policy appointee, Anthony Lake, whom Clinton wants to take over the Central Intelligence Agency. Unlike Albright and Cohen, Lake is expected to encounter serious opposition.
Many Senators are still angry with Lake over his role in the White House decision two years ago to not interfere with shipments of Iranian weapons to Bosnian Muslims through Croatia. The senators did not object to helping the Bosnian Mulsims against the Bosnian Serbs, they were angry because they had not been consulted about the decision beforehand. Lake was chairman of the President's National Security Council at the time.
His hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee is set for early next month.