A top foreign-policy adviser to President-elect Barack Obama promised a Senate panel on Thursday that she will work for international support and consensus on key challenges if she is confirmed as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Susan Rice told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she will work to strengthen what the incoming Obama administration views as "an indispensable if imperfect institution."
Rice, 44, is expected to win easy confirmation to the job, which the president-elect will elevate to a Cabinet-level position in a sign of a renewed commitment to multilateralism. She would be the third woman — and the first black woman — to serve as ambassador to the U.N., following Jean Kirkpatrick and Madeleine Albright.
Action On Darfur
Up until now, Rice has mainly worked on Africa, in the Clinton administration and at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. She told senators that one of her priorities will be to do more to stop what she called an "ongoing genocide" in Darfur, Sudan. She made it clear that her past experience with Rwanda has taught her some powerful lessons — that preventing genocide requires consensus and concerted action from the international community.
Rice called it "patently unacceptable" that more than a year after a peacekeeping force was authorized for Darfur, it is still up to only about half-strength. She was also skeptical about the Bush administration's call for a new U.N. force for Somalia.
Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told Rice he expects she will find many frustrations on the job, especially when it comes to conflicts in Africa, from Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"It seems somehow," said Kerry, "that the international community has lost the ability to act on its outrage."
Republican Distrust Of U.N.
Several Republicans, including Jim DeMint of South Carolina, complained about the United Nations, saying "they are ineffective, they've been wasteful, there's corruption, and there is deep concern that there is a lot of anti-American sentiment within the United Nations, which I think undermines the trust and confidence that many Americans have with the United Nations and our role there."
Rice acknowledged that in her opening statement to the panel, saying "none of us can be fully satisfied with the performance of the U.N., and too often we have been dismayed."
She promised to press for high standards and high expectations of the U.N. on issues such as financial accountability, efficiency, transparency and ethics.
Kerry said U.N. officials should take advantage of the incoming Obama administration's commitment to the U.N. and stop making excuses to avoid painful reforms.
"Nobody is going to come in here with an arrogant, overbearing, do this or else, my way or the highway attitude," he said, "but we are going to look for legitimate, cooperative, rational common sense ways of trying to do these things better."
Rice seemed to be on board.
"I will listen, I will engage, I will collaborate," she told the committee. "I will go to the U.N. convinced that this institution has great current value, even greater potential and still great room for improvement."
Rice, whose grandparents immigrated to Maine from Jamaica, was introduced to the committee by a senator from Maine, Republican Susan Collins. Rice herself was born and reared in Washington, D.C. Her father was a professor of economics at Cornell University and a former governor of the Federal Reserve System. Her mother is a scholar of education policy.
Rice graduated from Stanford University and won a Rhodes scholarship, earning a doctoral degree from New College, Oxford.
The confirmation hearing was short and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to move quickly to confirm her. The full Senate could vote on Rice's nomination within a day or two of next week's inauguration.