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Clinton Sets First High-Level Talks, Travel as Secretary of State

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to meet with her British and German counterparts on Tuesday in her first meetings with senior foreign officials in her new post. Plans are also being made for her first overseas trip as Secretary - to Japan, South Korea and China.

Clinton's separate meetings with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday reflect an accelerating pace for the secretary as she moves into her second full week on the job.

Officials say the talks with the two key U.S. allies are likely to be dominated by discussion of the conflict in Afghanistan and how to deal with Iran's nuclear program.

Senior diplomats of the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany are to convene in Wiesbaden, Germany on Wednesday to discuss strategy in the long-running talks aimed at persuading Tehran to end its uranium-enrichment program, which is believed weapons-related.

In a departure from his predecessor, President Barack Obama has said his administration intends to directly engage Tehran.

No decisions on how that approach might be made have been announced, although the State Department said Monday that a U.S. women's badminton team is taking part in a tournament in Iran this week, continuing a series of people-to-people contacts.

Although she was sworn into office privately just after her Senate confirmation January 21, Clinton repeated her oath at a State Department event on Monday. The formal ceremony was attended by Congressional leaders, four former Secretaries of State, and her husband - former President Bill Clinton.

Vice President Joe Biden, who officiated at the event, said Clinton - a former Senator and Presidential candidate - has given the U.S. diplomatic corps a long-overdue morale boost.

"That sense of enthusiasm as you walk in and through this building - it is contagious," said Vice President Biden. "And that's a statement about your ability to inspire, Madame Secretary, as well as to lead."

For her part, Clinton reiterated her commitment to the use of "smart power" - a blend of diplomacy, developmental aid and military strength to advance U.S. interests. She said that while current world problems are daunting, they are not insurmountable.

"We have in the leadership of President Obama someone who wants us to reach out to the world, to do so without illusions - understanding the difficulties we face will not be wished away, but meeting them forthrightly and smartly, and that we want to seize the opportunities that exist as well," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

State Department officials say plans are being finalized for Clinton's first overseas trip as Secretary of State - a visit to Japan, South Korea and China and possibly other stops in the region - that could begin as early as the end of next week.

The trip would be aimed at reaffirming close ties with key U.S. regional allies Japan and South Korea, and at dealing with problems in the complex relationship with China. The issue of North Korea's nuclear program is expected to be a key agenda item in all three stops.

North Korea suspended its nuclear activity and has partially disabled its atomic reactor complex in Chinese-sponsored six-party negotiations with Pyongyang. But the process has stalled over North Korea's refusal to accept a verification plan for the declaration of its nuclear holdings it made last June.