At the January 13 hearing, Democratic Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the committee, asked Clinton how an Obama administration would address Iran's suspected effort to obtain a nuclear bomb. She replied that Obama, like U.S. President George W. Bush, believes a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable.
"Our goal will be to do everything we can to pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear-weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring," Clinton said. "We are not taking any option off the table at all."
What would be new under Obama, Clinton said, would be a broader effort to engage Tehran in hopes of finding some common ground on which to begin building a positive relationship. She said she wouldn't become involved in such contacts until she saw that meetings by her subordinates were showing promise.
Hamas Must Renounce Violence
Clinton also indicated that little will change in how Washington views the protagonists in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. For example, if the Obama administration will engage with Tehran, will it do the same with Hamas? No, not unconditionally, Clinton said.
Clinton called for a strategy of "smart power" in this conflict and in the broader Middle East. She said "smart power" includes all tools at Washington's disposal -- diplomatic, military, economic, political, cultural and legal.
This would address both the aspirations of statehood for Palestinians, as well as Israel's security needs, Clinton said, and would encourage both Iran and Syria to stop supporting anti-Western militant groups like Hamas and Hizballah. She said a similar approach would be used in southern Asia to fight Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As for Iraq, Clinton said, withdrawing U.S. combat troops within 16 months is a key goal. That's not dissimilar from the Bush plan, worked out with the Baghdad government, under which all American forces are supposed to be out of Iraq by 2011.
Despite such parallels, Clinton made it clear that the Obama's attitude toward foreign policy will be much different that in the current White House.
"Our nation must lead by example rather than edict," she said. "Our history has shown that we are most effective when we see the harmony between our interests abroad and our values at home."
Turn To UN More
The secretary-designate also said Washington should turn to the United Nations and similar worldwide institutions as often as possible. By doing so, she said, America's power is enhanced, not diminished.
Russia's dispute over gas with Ukraine also came up at the hearing. The row led Russia to cut off all gas supplies to Europe that are channeled through Ukraine.
Republican Senator Richard Lugar suggested that Russia's action may have violated Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which requires all the alliance's members to come to the aid of an ally under attack. He said this can be viewed as just as much an act of war as sending tanks over the border.
In Lugar's view, such behavior by Russia could weaken the alliance. And yet, he said, neither NATO nor the EU has addressed the issue satisfactorily.
Asked to comment, Clinton noted that the OPEC oil cartel is a security and geopolitical enterprise, as well as a commercial venture. She said Russia is trying to create the same kind of enterprise for its gas resources.
"With respect to Russia and its interactions with Ukraine, Georgia, other European countries, it's recent purchase of the Serbian gas utility, I hope we can make progress with our friends in NATO and the EU to understand that we do need a broader framework in which we can talk about energy security issues," Clinton said. "It may or may not be Article 5, but I certainly think it is a significant security challenge that we ignore at our peril."
For the most part, the senators on the committee treated Clinton as an honored guest and colleague. But there was one negative issue raised: the appearance of a conflict of interest because her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has raised money worldwide for charitable causes under the Clinton Foundation.
Lugar said some may believe that a foreign donor -- whether an individual, a company, or a government -- may gain influence by making a gift to the foundation. He recommended that the best way to avoid such a perception is to ensure that the former president accepts no foreign donations as long as she's serving as secretary of state.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on Clinton's selection on January 15.