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Senate Confirmation Hearings Open for Secretary of State Nominee Condoleezza Rice

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has opened confirmation hearings for President Bush's nominee to head the State Department, Condoleezza Rice.

Condoleezza Rice defended the administration's decisions to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

At the same time, she vowed to work to strengthen ties with U.S. allies as she outlined President Bush's foreign policy goals in his second term:

"First, we will unite the community of democracies in building an international system that is based on shared values and the rule of law,” she said. “Second, we will strengthen the community of democracies to fight the threats to our common security and alleviate the hopelessness that feeds terror. And third, we will spread freedom and democracy throughout the globe. That is the mission President Bush has set for America in the world, and is the great mission of American diplomacy today."

Iraq is expected to be a key issue in the hearings.

Lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have questions for Ms. Rice about the Bush administration's use of faulty intelligence to make the case for going to war with Iraq. They also want to know the administration's plans for U.S. policy in Iraq following elections there later this month.

Senators are also expected to question Ms. Rice about Iran, North Korea, prospects for Middle East peace, and administration plans to reach out to the world and improve America's image overseas.

Some lawmakers, acknowledging that Ms. Rice has been a loyal confidante to President Bush as his National Security Adviser, want assurances that she will be an independent voice on foreign policy.

Along those lines, Senator Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a plea to Ms. Rice. "I hope you will demand accountability from the people who serve you, if heaven forbid, they mis-serve you to the extent that our country has been misserved, in my view, in Iraq,” he said. “This is not about punishing people or embarrassing the president, it is about learning from our mistakes so we do not repeat them."

Despite tough questioning by lawmakers, Ms. Rice is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate. A vote could come as early as Thursday. Ms. Rice would succeed Colin Powell as Secretary of State.