Obama: Iran and Israel-PA peace to top agenda

President-elect names Hillary Clinton next US secretary of state; James Jones to be national security adviser.

obama clinton 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
obama clinton 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
President-elect Barack Obama named the Iranian threat and the effort to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians as two of the top three issues facing the incoming US secretary of state, in announcing Hillary Clinton as his choice for the post Monday. He also tapped General James Jones, who has served in the Bush administration as security coordinator between the Israelis and Palestinians, as his national security adviser, and asked current Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on, as was widely expected. Rounding out the national security team Obama introduced at a Chicago press conference were Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as secretary of homeland security, Eric Holder as attorney-general and Susan Rice as ambassador to the UN, which will become a cabinet-level post. All, save Gates and Jones, will need to be confirmed by the Senate. "They share my pragmatism about the use of power, and my sense of purpose about America's role as a leader in the world," Obama said of his picks, who are mostly viewed as moderates. He called Clinton his "dear friend" and "an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence." The New York senator was Obama's toughest foe during the Democratic primaries, during which he questioned her foreign policy judgment and she suggested that he wasn't up to the job of being president. "Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances," Obama declared. "There's much to do, from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea, to seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, to strengthening international institutions." In asking Gates to stay on, Obama stressed the need for continuity as two wars are waged, though he noted that one of his priorities would be to give the defense secretary a new mission - "responsibly ending the war in Iraq." Asked by reporters about his commitment to the 16-month withdrawal timeline he gave during the campaign, Obama called the period "the right timeframe" but added that he would "listen to the recommendations of my commanders" and likely leave a residual force behind. In reference to Jones, Obama noted his lengthy military service and his Middle East peace-making efforts. Jones said Monday that he was "deeply humbled and deeply appreciative of this great opportunity." Clinton, for her part, declared that, "While we are determined to defend our freedoms and liberties at all costs, we also reach out to the world again, seeking common cause and higher ground." She also gave New Yorkers, whom she has represented in the Senate for the past eight years, a special thanks for preparing her for the job. "After all," she said, "New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their minds and do so in every language." Clinton has a long record in the Senate of supporting Israel and stressed those credentials during the campaign. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also mentioned this when congratulating her on her nomination Monday. "Senator Clinton is a friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish People, and I am sure that in her new position she will continue to advance the special Israel-US relationship," he said. Jones, however, has less of a record in relation to Israel. He helped monitor security issues in the West Bank and was due to present a report on his findings before the end of the Bush administration. However, the report, expected to be critical of Israel, was never published. Asked about the "team of rivals" he had appeared to assemble, Obama answered, "I assembled this team because I'm a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that's how the best decisions are made. "One of the dangers in the White House, based on my reading of history," he continued, "is that you get wrapped up in group think and everybody agrees with everything and there's no discussion and there are no dissenting views." However, he concluded by saying, "Understand, I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made."