WASHINGTON – Less than a week after taking over the reins of US foreign policy, Hillary Clinton has left her mark on the State Department with a politician-style charm offensive.
Since she arrived Thursday at the austere hub of US diplomacy, the former first lady set the tone for a "new era for America" marked by openness and dialogue.
Greeted with cheers from employees, she immediately thrust herself into a crowd worthy of the intense presidential election campaign she waged for more than a year before yielding to her Democratic rival Barack Obama.
In order to break clearly with former president George W. Bush's administration, which was accused of resorting too readily to military force, she retooled US foreign policy along three lines: diplomacy, development and defense.
In her first news briefing on Tuesday Clinton admitted Washington has "a lot of damage to repair" to its global standing, and said the world is relieved Obama has replaced Bush.
However, there would not be a total "repudiation" of the past eight years, she said, and noted that the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament pursued under Bush are "essential."
Matching words with deeds to break with the previous administration, in one of her first acts Clinton visited the US Agency for International Development where she promised employees extra funds and political will before plunging into the crowds to shake hands.
In a further show of the new lead on global development, the State Department announced Tuesday it has made an initial contribution of 125 million dollars toward the 2009 operations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Within days of her arrival Clinton outlined the new US priorities with the naming of three envoys: former senator George Mitchell for the Middle East; diplomat Richard Holbrooke for Afghanistan and Pakistan; and Todd Stern, a former advisor of her husband and ex-president Bill Clinton, to deal with climate change.
Unlike her predecessor Condoleezza Rice, who was courteous but brief and formal at similar appointments ceremonies, Clinton has given such events the air of a campaign rally.
When the talking was over, she plunged into the audience to greet as many people as possible.
She has been careful to make sure that her former rivalry with Obama is over for good by insisting that the new administration forms a "team."
On Monday she took part in a meeting with the new president and Mitchell at the White House, just before the peace envoy left to the region on his maiden trip.
In her first direct contact with the media, Clinton avoided a formal televised news conference and chose instead to meet in person with more than a dozen journalists in their office space at the State Department.
Showered with questions on the new administration's plans, she avoided all the traps and abstained from commenting on potentially controversial subjects.
Asked about civilian victims blamed on US military strikes in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, she said: "I am not prepared to talk about that."
Dialogue with US arch-foe Iran? "There is just a lot that we are considering that I am not prepared to discuss," she said.
She adopted a diplomatic tone on China when she called for "comprehensive" dialogue in line with its "important role" in the region and world.
In one week, the secretary of state has telephoned 37 presidents, prime ministers or foreign ministers, according to the State Department media officers.
She said she sensed from such calls a sigh of relief that the Obama administration had replaced Bush's team.
"There is a great exhalation of breath going on around the world as people express their appreciation for the new direction that is being set and the team that is being put together by the president," said the chief US diplomat.
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