Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice yesterday branded six countries, including Iran and North Korea, as “outposts of tyranny,” coining a term reminiscent of President Bush’s “axis of evil” three years ago.
Miss Rice, during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, vowed to use diplomacy to address “the threats to our common security” and to “spread freedom and democracy throughout the globe.”
“That is the mission that President Bush has set for America in the world, and it’s the great mission of American diplomacy today,” she said.
“To be sure, in our world, there remain outposts of tyranny, and America stands with oppressed people on every continent,” she said, naming Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Zimbabwe.
The only “axis of evil” member missing from the new group is Iraq.
Miss Rice, who will succeed Colin L. Powell after her all-but-certain Senate confirmation, said the Foreign Service “will need to develop new skills and rise to new challenges” to be able to carry out “transformational diplomacy.”
“More than ever, America’s diplomats will need to be active in spreading democracy, fighting terror, reducing poverty, and doing our part to protect the American homeland,” Miss Rice said.
She conceded that her famous remark during the 2000 presidential campaign that the United States did not have to bother with nation building is no longer valid.
But even as she laid out an activist agenda for the diplomatic corps, Miss Rice spoke in “balance of power” terms, characteristic of the realpolitik school of foreign policy to which she belongs.
“We must use American diplomacy to help create a balance of power in the world that favors freedom,” she said. “The time for diplomacy is now.”
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and the committee’s ranking member, said the time for diplomacy “is long overdue,” referring to the negative image of the United States in the Middle East and other parts of the world.
“Despite our great military might, we are, in my view, more alone in the world than we’ve been in any time in recent memory,” he said.
Miss Rice promised that public diplomacy will be a top priority for her at the State Department and that she “will increase our exchanges with the rest of the world.”
“Americans should make a serious effort to understand other cultures and learn foreign languages,” she said. “Our interaction with the rest of the world must be a conversation, not a monologue.”
She said she would consult closely with allies and be personally engaged in negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians. She plans “to spend an enormous amount of effort” on the Middle East peace process.
She also pledged to “support and uphold the system of international rules and treaties,” which the Bush administration was accused of neglecting in its campaign against terrorism and the war in Iraq.
Miss Rice, an expert on the former Soviet Union who has been Mr. Bush’s national security adviser for the past four years, is expected to be sworn in at the White House tomorrow and to move into the secretary’s office on the seventh floor of the State Department on Friday.
During the nine-hour hearing yesterday, most committee members praised Miss Rice’s personal achievements.
“We admire her accomplishments,” said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and committee chairman. “We recognize the deep personal commitment necessary to undertake this difficult assignment, and we are grateful that a leader of her stature is willing to step forward.”
The generally cordial morning session ended with some tough questioning, which persisted in the afternoon.
Miss Rice had heated exchanges about Iraq with Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, last year’s Democratic presidential candidate.
Mrs. Boxer accused the administration of shifting its justification for the war after no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.
“Let’s not rewrite history — it’s too soon to do that,” she said. “Your loyalty to the mission you were given to sell this war overwhelmed your respect for the truth.”
“Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like,” Miss Rice said in response. “But I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity.”
Mr. Kerry indicated that he might vote against the nomination.
“You are going to be confirmed, and everybody knows that. But without anything personal at all, whether or not it is with my vote is yet to be determined. I have reservations, and they are not personal in any way whatsoever, but they do go to the story and trail of the last four years.”
She also was grilled about the White House’s role in policies that some critics of the administration say made the abuses of Iraqi prisoners possible.
Miss Rice did not break any new policy ground, although the hearing covered a range of topics and regions — from trade and economic issues to Russia to the Middle East to Sudan to Latin America.
She condemned Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and called his recent acts, such as stricter media laws, seizures of private property and pro-Chavez judicial appointments, “deeply troubling.”
“At this point, we have to view the government of Venezuela as a negative force in the region,” she said.
She was less tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that in his country, “the path to democracy is uneven and that its success is not yet assured.”
On Iraq, Miss Rice said the administration’s exit strategy is “directly proportional” to the country’s ability to defend itself against terrorists after the Jan. 30 elections.
“I think the world is coming together on the idea that we have to succeed in Iraq,” she said.