The U.S. State Department has rejected as unfair and inaccurate newspaper editorial criticism that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton downplayed human rights issues on her first two trips abroad. Clinton is to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Wednesday for talks likely to include the issue of Tibet.
The State Department is rejecting, in unusually blunt terms, editorial criticism that Secretary Clinton has soft-pedaled human rights issues in her initial trips abroad in her new post.
In an editorial on Tuesday, The Washington Post newspaper accused Clinton of undermining and devaluing the U.S. diplomatic tradition of human rights advocacy by seeming to minimize concerns about the issue on recent visits to China, Egypt and Turkey - countries that have come under regular criticism in annual State Department human rights reports.
The Washington Post commentary took the Secretary to task for saying on her first trip abroad, to Asia in February, that concern for human rights "cannot interfere" with the U.S. dialogue with China on economic, security and environmental issues.
It said Clinton undercut the State Department's own efforts in Egypt and Turkey last week by downplaying rights abuses by the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and media curbs by the Ankara government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In an informal talk with reporters, State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said the notion that Clinton has not been "firm and strong" on the issue of human rights is unfair and inaccurate.
He said Clinton, a former U.S. senator and first lady, has sought to advance human rights throughout her career, and that she was very explicit on the issue during her visit to Beijing, where, among other things, he said she invited news media coverage of a meeting with Chinese women activists.
Wood said Clinton is "very frustrated" that there has not been enough progress on human rights in places like Tibet and Belarus.
He said she believes that merely stating U.S. concerns about human rights cases in meetings with foreign counterparts does not necessarily produce gains, and that she is looking for "new and creative ways" to influence rights conditions in China and elsewhere.
"We're going to continue to push on human rights. But what we want to do, is we want to be more effective than previous administrations have been," said Wood. "And sometimes yelling loud doesn't necessarily help you reach that objective. You've got to try to come up with ways that you can use - the media or other elements of society - to influence in a positive direction the human rights situation. And I have heard the Secretary talk about these issues and she feels very passionately about them."
Wood said earlier at a news briefing that he expects the issue of Tibet to come up in the Secretary's meeting on Wednesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, which comes a day after the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet that caused Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to flee his homeland.
The spokesman said the United States wants to see a substantive dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama, which he said is the best way to address long-standing problem issues over Tibet.
He said he also expects the meeting to cover Sunday's maritime incident in which the U.S. Navy says one of its surveillance ships was harassed by Chinese vessels in the international waters of the South China Sea.
The discussion, a continuation of talks Clinton had with her Chinese counterpart last month in Beijing, is also likely to deal with North Korea and the international economic crisis.
Yang will also meet on Wednesday with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and with White House National Security Council officials before returning home on Thursday.