Clinton approved by Senate as top U.S. diplomat

WASHINGTON Wed Jan 21, 2009 5:30pm EST

Senator Hillary Clinton smiles as she testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington to become the next U.S. Secretary of State, in this January 13, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files

Senator Hillary Clinton smiles as she testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington to become the next U.S. Secretary of State, in this January 13, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton won U.S. Senate approval as secretary of state on Wednesday despite renewed Republican concerns about potential conflicts of interest created by her husband's foreign fundraising.

On a 94-2 vote, the Senate easily approved Clinton's nomination by President Barack Obama to be the top U.S. diplomat. She replaces former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Clinton faces a barrage of international challenges in her new post, from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to tackling the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea and duel wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During a Senate debate, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas raised the potential for conflicts of interest created by foreign donations to the charitable foundation of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Cornyn said he supported her nomination and it was crucial she get to work on the international challenges awaiting the Obama administration, but the issue of foreign donations raised crucial questions about government transparency and trust.

"I intend to vote for her confirmation. But I also think it's important to flesh out the concerns raised," Cornyn said. "If we are going to restore trust between the American people and their government, we need to be sure the reality matches the rhetoric."

Among the nearly $500 million given to the foundation, established by Bill Clinton to pay for his library in Arkansas and charitable projects around the world, are donations from foreign governments that Hillary Clinton could deal with in her new role.

To answer concerns about possible conflicts, the foundation and the Obama transition team reached an agreement in December to make public a list of its past donors, annually publish the names of its current donors and agree to submit future foreign donations to a State Department ethics review.

Cornyn and other Republicans suggested additional steps such as cutting off all foreign donations during her tenure.

"ABOVE REPROACH"

"This will help Senator Clinton be a secretary of state who is above reproach," said Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who joined Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter in voting against her nomination.

During her confirmation hearing last week, Clinton resisted requests to amend the agreement. She said ethics lawyers concluded there was no inherent conflict of interest between her husband's foundation, which combats HIV/AIDS, global warming and poverty, and her service as secretary of state.

"I trust Hillary Clinton's good judgment," Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said. "I think she will work through these issues."

Senators from both parties praised Clinton as uniquely qualified for the job. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party's presidential nominee who lost to Obama in November, urged the Senate to quickly approve her.

"The message that the American people are sending us now is they want us to work together and get to work," McCain said.

The former first lady, a Democratic senator from New York, has promised a more muscular and "pragmatic" approach to U.S. diplomacy in sharp contrast to what critics considered the ideological approach of former President George W. Bush.

Obama, who has indicated his administration will take a more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leaped into Middle East diplomacy on his first day in office with a round of calls to regional leaders.

He also may move quickly to name a Middle East envoy and is considering George Mitchell, a former U.S. senator and veteran international trouble-shooter, for the job.

Clinton, a fierce rival of Obama's for the Democratic presidential nomination, plans to resign her Senate seat now that she is confirmed.

New York Gov. David Paterson is expected to appoint her replacement in the Senate later this week, with Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former President John Kennedy, one of those under consideration.

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