WASHINGTON — Susan E. Rice, the former senior Clinton State Department official for Africa, seemed assured of being confirmed as the next American ambassador to the United Nations after her Senate hearing on Thursday. Senators subjected her to fairly gentle questions, focused as much on foreign policy issues as on the concern that the United States does not get its money’s worth from the organization.
In her opening statement before the foreign relations committee, Ms. Rice, who was the senior foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign, said she would work on four priority issues with the overall goal of reinvigorating American leadership at the United Nations — the most frequent terms she used seemed to be “renew” and “robust diplomacy.”
The priorities she identified are improving the capacity of the United Nations to undertake peacekeeping operations; providing leadership in addressing climate change; preventing both the spread and the use of nuclear weapons; and focusing on alleviating the suffering of the world’s poorest.
Asked repeatedly about what the Obama administration would do about the Islamic Republic of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, she said it would pursue a combination of incentives and pressure to block that, although she declined to be more specific. Citing President-elect Barack Obama, she said the United States had to “combine tough, direct, robust diplomacy with increased sanctions and pressure to try to elicit a change of course from the Iranian regime.”
Ms. Rice answered a host of questions about the effectiveness of the United Nations by pointing out that it was far more economical for the United States to rely on U.N. peacekeeping operations than for Washington to go it alone. For every dollar that the United States spent on such endeavors when it worked on its own, she said, it usually cost the United Nations 12 cents.
“That is a pretty good deal,” said Ms. Rice, 44, whose husband, two young children and parents were seated behind her. The United States pays 27 percent of the roughly $7 billion annual budget for peacekeeping, which includes around 90,000 soldiers in 16 different missions. It also pays 22 percent of the overall budget, the largest single contribution.
Ms. Rice said the costs of no action or unilateral action in many crises was too high, so the answer was to make peacekeeping more effective. The previous administration intervened periodically she said, but had not pursued it in a sustained or collective fashion. “This is not a challenge for the United States alone,” she said.
Ms. Rice called it “patently unacceptable” that the United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur had only just reached half its strength, more than a year after it was formed, largely by underequipped units from the African Union.
The prospective ambassador has been quoted extensively saying that she would never allow a situation like the genocide in Rwanda to occur again, so she was asked several times how she would confront the government in Sudan over the killing in Darfur as well as other crises in Africa. Ms. Rice said she thought the United States could muster more support from countries like China and Russia on Sudan or Zimbabwe or other issues by emphasizing through quiet diplomacy where the interests of great powers converge with those of the region.
“It is not uncommon to hear quite moving speeches in the halls of the Security Council,” she said, but that was to often followed by a “deficit of determination” to hold dictators like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe to account for their actions.
The hearings ranged widely, touching on virtually every trouble spot in the world including the Congo, Somalia, Burma and North Korea. Given the fact that the Middle East is again up in flames, it was striking that no senators raised the question of the fighting in Gaza until some two hours into the nearly three-hour hearing. When two finally did, it was in the context of what to do to stop Hamas firing rockets into Israel — none mentioned the heavy civilian toll among the Palestinian population.
It was Ms. Rice herself who brought up the humanitarian crisis, noting that the incoming Obama administration was greatly concerned about “the suffering of innocents” and on a broader scale determined to forge ahead with a two-state solution.
“There needs to be a durable cease-fire, but a durable cease-fire has to entail the halt to Hamas rockets against Israel and the Israeli people,” she said, adding that including effective measures to control weapons smuggling into Gaza and an effective means to control the border. Once the fighting ended, she said, “We need to mount a swift and robust effort to attend to the dire humanitarian needs inside Gaza.”
Many senators, especially from the Republican side, expressed concern that the United Nations was shutting down an independent unit that had conducted corruption investigations over the past two years in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal. Ms. Rice expressed her support for continued efforts to reform the organization and root out corruption, but said the effort should be transferred to an internal auditor. "The New York Times"