President Obama’s nominee to be the nation’s next ambassador to the United Nations pledged Wednesday to vigorously defend Israel’s interests as she sought to blunt criticism that her appointment would hurt relations with its key Middle East ally.
Samantha Power, who served on Mr. Obama’s National Security Council staff, received a mix of lavish praise and tough interrogation from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a confirmation hearing. She appeared determined to defuse controversial comments she made about Israel in 2002.
“Israel’s legitimacy should be beyond dispute, and its security must be beyond doubt,” Ms. Power said. “I commit to you wholeheartedly to go on offense as well as playing defense on the legitimation of Israel and we’ll make every effort to secure greater integration of Israeli public servants in the U.N. system.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, did press her on her past statement that a hypothetical response to either side looking like they might move toward genocide in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would probably require a “mammoth protection force” and “a meaningful military presence.”
“I have disassociated myself from those comments many times,” replied Ms. Power, saying her remarks at the time were a long, rambling and remarkably incoherent reply to a question she should never have answered.
She said Wednesday a negotiated peace process is the only way for a resolution to the conflict.
Ms. Power would replace Susan E. Rice, whom the president has tapped to become his national security adviser. Mr. Obama had hoped to elevate Mrs. Rice to be secretary of state, but had to back away from those plans in the face of fierce criticism over her role in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who supports Ms. Power’s nomination, said he looks forward to seeing her get to work on issues in the Middle East.
“We are about to see a Middle East that is already imploding,” Mr. McCain said. “You may be faced with issues before the United Nations and the Security Council the likes of which we have not seen, and so I know that you will preserve your fundamental beliefs in the supremacy of the role of the United States in the world and our advocacy for the freedoms that are so important to all of us.”
Ms. Power, a former journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work writing about foreign genocide and U.S. foreign policy, also received two glowing introductions from Georgia’s two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.
She also appears to have clear support from Democrats.
Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, alluded to some of the criticism from conservative commentators including Frank J. Gaffney Jr., president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy, and nearly 60 other national security and public policy officials who oppose her nomination.
“Your nomination as ambassador to the United Nations has come with much fanfare and with some criticism, which at the end of the day means you must be doing something right,” Mr. Menendez said. “But without fanfare or criticism, I don’t believe anyone can question your credentials, nor can anyone question your service.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, called her “a devoted public servant and passionate defender of human rights and individual freedoms.”
“Throughout her career, Samantha has embodied a strong, yet responsible foreign policy — unafraid to confront some of the world’s toughest adversaries,” Mr. Kaine said. “And while ‘blunt’ and ‘outspoken’ aren’t usually strong qualifications for a diplomatic post, in the case of the U.N., they are.”