Hillary Clinton is secretary of state; concern over India link

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Hillary Clinton has become America’s new chief diplomat, but not before a senator again aired his concerns about her husband’s foundation citing a donation from an Indian politician when the India-US civil nuclear deal was before the Congress.

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Shortly after approval by the Senate, Hillary Clinton was sworn in as the 67th US secretary of state to succeed Condoleeza Rice.

Bill Clinton and her Senate staff looked on as Clinton’s childhood friend and D.C. appeals court Associate Judge Kathleen Oberly swore her in on a Bible belonging to the former first lady’s late father, in a ceremony in her Senate office.

Immediately after the ceremony, Clinton submitted her resignation from the Senate with identical one-sentence letters to Vice President Joe Biden, who serves as president of the Senate, Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson and New York Governor David Paterson.

But Hillary got confirmed only after Republican Senator John Cornyn, whose objection had held up Clinton’s confirmation Tuesday, had his say the Senate Wednesday approved her nomination by an overwhelming 94-2 vote with the doubter himself voting for her.

Cornyn said he knew that Clinton would be confirmed but said he delayed the vote because he wanted more time to talk about the foundation run by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

When President Barack Obama announced Clinton’s nomination in December, the transition team revealed a complex agreement with the foundation that requires annual disclosure and some limits on soliciting foreign contributions.

“My concern is not whether our colleague Sen. Clinton is qualified to be secretary of state or not. She is,” he said.

“But we should not let our respect for Senator Clinton or our admiration for the many good works of the Clinton Foundation blind us to the danger of perceived conflicts of interest caused by the [foundation’s] solicitation of hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign and some domestic sources,” he said.

“The perception and reality must be that the office of secretary of state is viewed around the world as beyond reproach.”

Citing a huge donation by an Indian politician, presumably Samajwadi leader Amar Singh whose name figured among Clinton Foundation donors, Cornyn said it was “just one example of the perception of conflict of interest that I think ought to give all of us concern.”

“Now, last year, last Congress, we voted to support a civilian nuclear technology arrangement with the country of India and I voted for it,” he said.

“But one of the problems is, for example, one of the individuals who was lobbying for that, a politician in India who gave between $1 million and $5 million to the foundation, was actually lobbying Congress to pass this very same deal at the time he was making a significant contribution to the foundation.”

“I’m not suggesting anything untoward or improper about that but I’m pointing out the very real example of the perception of conflict of interest, something I think we all would hope to avoid,” Cornyn said.

The two senators who opposed Clinton’s confirmation were Republicans Jim DeMint and David Vitter. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16-1 last week in favour of Clinton’s nomination, with Vitter casting the sole dissenting vote.

In her confirmation hearing before the Senate panel, Clinton advocated the use of “smart power,” arguing that the US should engage such hostile powers as Iran and Syria and pursue partnerships with China and Russia.