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Obama Taps Susan Rice for UN Ambassador Position

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen one of his campaign's foreign policy advisers to help shape American diplomacy. On December 1, Mr. Obama announced his nomination of Susan Rice to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Rice served as a former U.S. assistant secretary of state on African affairs during the Clinton administration and has been a strong advocate of military action to confront genocide in Darfur.

Rice was youngest-ever to be named assistant secretary of state under Clinton administration

A decade ago after serving in the Clinton White House, Susan Rice became one of the youngest ever to be named assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Here she visited with Mozambique's president.

At 32 years old, her responsibilities included more than 40 nations.

When al-Qaida bombed U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, Rice was deeply involved in the official government response.

Rice describes nomination as signal of change

As President-elect Barack Obama (on December 1) named Rice to be his U.N. Ambassador, she called his election a signal to the world that America is on, "the path to change" and must meet new challenges.

"To prevent conflict, to promote peace, combat terrorism, prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons, tackle climate change, end genocide, fight poverty and disease," she said.

Susan Rice was born in 1964. She was a Rhodes Scholar and holds degrees from Stanford and Oxford Universities.

After her government service, Rice spoke of her horror at seeing decomposing bodies in Rwanda in 1994, the victims of genocide. She has vowed to do whatever she can to prevent future mass killings.

UN ambassador nominee has strong feelings about Darfur, Rwanda

Recently, Rice publicly called on Congress to authorize the use of force to end bloodshed in the Darfur region of Sudan where the U.N. estimates up to 300,000 people have died.

As a senior fellow at a Washington, D.C. research center, the Brookings Institution, last year Rice testified at a Senate hearing on the Darfur region.

"I want to be clear. I didn't come to the conclusion that we ought to use military force, even limited strikes, casually or quickly. I, like you Senator Biden, am not crazy about killing people, but I do think that at a certain point, we have to ask when enough is enough," Rice said.

In light of such concerns, advocates raise the issue of China's arms sales to Sudan.

Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria, says Rice could appeal to China's desire for international recognition.

"To say, 'Look, if you want to be a world player, we've got to work together to bring peace to Darfur," Lyman said. "If one could convince China and Russia to cut back on arms shipments, or make them conditional in some way, that would be a very strong step forward."

Lyman also says President Obama's decision to elevate the U.S. ambassadorship to a Cabinet-level position is very significant.

"We don't do that with our ambassadors to Geneva or even to NATO. So it sends a very strong message and I think it does give her much more influence and respect in New York," Lyman added.

Many challenges ahead for Susan Rice

In the U.N., Rice will confront lingering tensions over the Bush administration's 2003 push for war in Iraq and later for reform of the world body.

Brett Schaeffer is with the politically conservative Heritage Foundation. He says diplomacy alone often cannot overcome long-standing differences.

"You have to acknowledge sometimes that countries are going to disagree," Schaeffer said. "It's an honest and it's a useful way at looking at foreign affairs."

The diplomatic community sees Rice's opposition to the war, and her association with a new administration, as an advantage.

Schaeffer says some people have described Rice as a strong-willed person who does not mince words. But he says, in the diplomatic world, that's often an attribute.

"Someone with an aggressive personality who is willing to really forcefully defend U.S. positions at the United Nations is necessary and vital," Schaeffer said.

Rice is praised as a conscientious, hard worker with a solid diplomatic background. She faces Senate hearings and a confirmation vote before she could become, at 44 years old, the second-youngest U.S. ambassador to the U.N.