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Clinton Takes Charge; Special Envoys Named

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. One day after a Senate confirmation, Hillary Clinton took charge of the State Department. She emphasized defense, diplomacy, and development as the three key elements to American foreign policy. And she told the hundreds gathered to welcome her that America has to be smarter about how it exercises power.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): Well, at the heart of smart power are smart people, and you are those people. And you are the ones that we will count on and turn to for the advice and counsel, the expertise and experience to make good on the promises of this new administration.

NORRIS: President Obama later stopped by the State Department. And Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton named two high-level envoys with familiar names, one to work on Middle East peace, the other to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us now from the State Department. Michele, tell us about these two envoys.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, first is George Mitchell. He's a former senator who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland. He's going to be the envoy on the Middle East working on the Israeli-Palestinian issue but also more broadly on Arab-Israeli peace efforts. President Obama said he's going to send Mitchell out to the region soon and that the violence in Gaza and southern Israel are a reminder of the challenges at hand. The second one was Richard Holbrooke. He's a former U.N. Ambassador, longtime diplomat, and probably best-known as the architect of the Dayton Peace Accord that ended the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s. He called his new assignment a daunting one. He's going to be in charge of coordinating government efforts on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

NORRIS: What did it mean to all the people who work there at the State Department that Barack Obama on day two of his administration took the trip over there to Foggy Bottom?

KELEMEN: I think it was a big deal. I mean, Hillary Clinton pointed out several times today that his presence at the department this early on shows that the administration is going to be committed to diplomacy. That was a message that was very clearly well-received here.

NORRIS: Earlier, Mr. Obama signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay and to provide new guidelines on interrogation methods. He spoke about that at the State Department today. Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of State Department address)

President BARACK OBAMA: I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.

(Soundbite of applause)

NORRIS: Michele, we hear applause there. Does that reflect the general mood at the State Department?

KELEMEN: It does. I mean, President Obama was speaking mainly to a select group, several hundred people. These were top State Department officials and some ambassadors and others that are coming into the department. But the comments where broadcast broadly throughout the building, and he did linger around and talk to people in the room today. And, you know, he talked about that and closing down Guantanamo. These are both issues that have really tarnished America's image abroad. And by doing this so early on, deciding to close it down, close Guantanamo down, he's trying to show that diplomacy is going to matter and we're going to work to rebuild America's image. And that was an important message that diplomats here got.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen, speaking to us from the State Department. Thanks so much, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Michele Norris