WASHINGTON – Condoleezza Rice (search) vowed Tuesday to reach out to America's friends and allies around the globe in future policy decisions and said she would try to mend relations that were strained in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
In a daylong confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rice heard praise and criticisms relating to her role in forming Iraq policy and advice on how to approach international relations challenges in the coming years.
"The time for diplomacy is now," Rice told members of the panel, adding, "if confirmed, I will work with members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, to build a strong bipartisan consensus behind America's foreign policy. I will seek to strengthen our alliances, to support our friends, and to make the world safer, and better."
A committee vote is expected Wednesday, and the full Senate could act later in the week.
Rice is expected to easily secure enough votes to be confirmed as the next secretary of state, replacing Colin Powell, and becoming the first black female to hold the post. But passage wasn't going to happen before she answered some tough questions about her role combating terrorism and waging the war in Iraq.
"The fact is relations with many of our oldest friends are, quite frankly, scraping the bottom right now and we need to heed the advice of the president of the United States just before his first inaugural when he talked about acting with humility as well as force," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., ranking Democrat on the committee.
Biden also said he hopes "we can start leveling" on the realistic prospects for success in Iraq and wanted to know how Rice would deal with the North Korean nuclear situation, since, he said, "we seem to be sitting on the sidelines" there.
If confirmed, Rice would be the first black woman, and only the second woman after Madeleine Albright (search), to be America's top diplomat.
"Every nation that benefits from living on the right side of the freedom divide has an obligation to share freedom's blessings. Our first challenge, then, is to inspire the American people, and the people of all free nations, to unite in common cause to solve common problems," Rice said.
Rice was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (search), who represents Rice's home state of California and said Rice has the "poise and the leadership" to lead American diplomacy.
"American foreign policy today is at a crossroads — in Iraq, across the Middle East, in North Korea, our relations with China and so many other challenges," the Democratic senator said, adding that Rice has an advantage, since she has been by the president's side for "every major" national security decision made during the past four years.
"There will be no doubt she speaks for and behalf of the president of the United States" when acting as the secretary of state, Feinstein said.
Rice to Rubber Stamp?
Rice said the United States faces "daunting tasks" in this day and age as it faces a "long-term struggle against an ideology of tyranny and terror, and against hatred and hopelessness."
She added that American diplomacy has three "great tasks":
— Unite the community of democracies in building an international system that is based on our shared values and the rule of law.
— Strengthen the community of democracies to fight the threats to the common security and alleviate the hopelessness that feeds terror.
— Spread freedom and democracy throughout the globe.
"That is the mission that President Bush has set for America in the world and the great mission of American diplomacy today," she said.
Some critics, however, say she will only rubber-stamp President Bush's views, rather than represent the views of U.S. diplomats, while others question her service as Bush's national security adviser during the last four years.
"I personally believe that your loyalty to the mission you were given overwhelmed your respect for the truth," Sen. Barbara Boxer (search), D-Calif., told Rice before the hearing.
Other Democrats, including those who are expected to vote in favor of Rice's confirmation, said the tough questions over Iraq and terror are fair.
"She did bob and weave in those highly secretive meetings we had where we were informed there were weapons of mass destruction," Sen. Ben Nelson (search), D-Fla., told FOX News on Tuesday. Nelson said at one point, administration officials told senators that Saddam Hussein (search) had plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles to drop deadly chemicals on American cities.
"There was a failure in our intelligence system and whether she knew it or bought it, she ought to answer for it," he said.
On Iraq, Rice repeatedly has defended the administration's reasons for war, including the premise that Saddam possessed dangerous weapons of mass destruction and would use them or pass them to terrorists if he was not stopped. No such weapons have been found in two years.
Republican senators joined Democrats in asking Rice about the weapons discrepancy and about the adequacy of U.S. planning for the war and its aftermath. But she refused to be nailed down on a specific exit strategy for the United States.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., challenged Rice's claim that the right number of troops were in Iraq and criticized the administration's postwar policies, saying "you are going to be confirmed and everybody knows that ... I have reservations but they are not personal. But they do go to the story and trail of the next four years.
"It seems to me ... we went in to rescue Iraq from Saddam Hussein. Now I think we have to rescue our policy from ourselves," said the senator, who lost the presidential race against Bush last November, and mused that he was sort of happy to be back in the Senate.
"We do have some big tactical challenges to get to the strategic goals that we have," Rice replied. "This was never going to be easy. It was always going to have ups and down[s]. I'm sure we have made multiple decisions — some of which were good, some of which were not good, but the strategic decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was a good one."
America's Acts 'Necessary and Right'
As the first secretary of state nominated after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rice spoke about her own advice to Bush about terrorism in the early months of his presidency.
"Under the vision and leadership of President Bush, our nation has risen to meet the challenges of our time: fighting tyranny and terror, and securing the blessings of freedom and prosperity for a new generation," she said of the post-Sept. 11 world.
"The work that America and our allies have undertaken, and the sacrifices we have made, have been difficult and necessary and right. Now is the time to build on these achievements to make the world safer, and to make the world more free. We must use American diplomacy to help create a balance of power in the world that favors freedom. And the time for diplomacy is now."
Rice said she was "humbled" by Bush's confidence in her to take the lead of American diplomacy "at such a moment in history."
She also vowed that, if confirmed, she would oversee securing embassies and U.S. diplomats overseas.
"This time of global transformation calls for 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," she said. "I will personally work to ensure that America's diplomats have all the tools they need to do their jobs from training to budgets to mentoring to embassy security."
Rice also used the hearing to outline her plans for a renewed Middle East peace initiative and other goals.
"The establishment of a Palestinian democracy will help to bring an end to the conflict in the Holy Land," she said. "We seek security and peace for the state of Israel. Israel must do its part to improve the conditions under which Palestinians live and seek to build a better future. Arab states must join to help and deny any help or solace to those who take the path of violence."
She added: "I expect myself to spend an enormous amount of effort on this activity" but noted that she "can't substitute" for the parties involved that represent the Israeli and Palestinian people. "That's the message we have to keep sending."
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., wanted to know what the U.S. government's plan was for Iraq after the Jan. 30 elections there as terrorists continue to try to thwart democratic progress.
"For us, to try to improve Iraq's capabilities to defend itself," Rice said. She noted that U.S. military leaders on the ground believe they are doing "relatively well" in this arena but effective leadership among the Iraqi security forces needs to be improved to reduce desertion rates, among other things.
As coalition forces continue to focus on improving the Iraqi security forces and aid in reconstruction efforts, Rice said, "the Iraqis will take more and more responsibility for fighting the terrorists, rooting out the Baathists and we will help them get there."
Biden pressed her on Iraq, saying he met with U.S. troops on his last visit there who acknowledged that the Iraqi security forces are not well trained enough to protect the country. He added that the administration has not been straight about preparing an exit strategy and whether an adequate level of U.S. troops are in the theater.
"I would not presume to try to give the president military advice, but I do believe that he got good military advice and I do believe that the plan and the forces that we went in with were appropriate to the task," Rice said, but acknowledged that, "we did meet with some unforeseen circumstances."
Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican who has called for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's resignation in the wake of the Iraqi Oil-for-Food scandal that has tarnished the United Nations, asked how, with that organization's "stain of mismanagement," it's possible to trust the agency to oversee future programs in that country.
"We really do expect openness and transparency in the United Nations" in getting to the bottom of the investigation into how Saddam's regime was able to skim millions from the program and how many humanitarian and oil contracts were left unchecked, Rice said. "We've got to get to the bottom of what happened here and those who were responsible should be held accountable … this will be an important agenda for us."
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., tried to get Rice to give her personal viewpoint on interrogation techniques such as waterboarding and having detainees questioned without clothing and whether that constituted torture. Rice would not give her personal viewpoint but said that when the administration was deciding how to deal with Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees who were not part of the Geneva Conventions, "we did face a very difficult and different circumstance ... this is a different kind of combatant," she said.
But, she added, a decision was made by the president after hearing from all of his advisers that kept the United States "living up to our international obligations while allowing us to recognize the Geneva Conventions should not apply to a particular group of people" such as suspected Al Qaeda terrorists.
"Under no circumstances should we or have we condoned torture," she added. "The president has been very clear he expects everyone to live up to our international obligations and the law."
Rice also said "outposts of tyranny" remain in the world and they require close attention. She cited North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
"We must remain united in insisting that Iran and North Korea abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions and choose instead the path of peace," she added.
FOX News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.