Condoleezza Rice, ready to take office as US secretary of state, put a softer face on the Bush administration but gave no quarter in its hardnosed approach to the post-Sept. 11 world.
Through 9-1/2 grueling hours of testimony at her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Rice remained unflaggingly conciliatory, pledging to stress diplomacy in the war on terror and repair alliances battered by the invasion of Iraq.
But if the tone was sweeter, the substance was much the same: a staunch defense of the Iraq war, a determination to spread US values around the world and a readiness to go it alone if necessary to protect American security interests.
As President George W. Bush's national security adviser and closest aide for four years, Rice was not expected to churn up any new ground in US foreign policy and she didn't come close on Tuesday.
But the tenor of her opening remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appeared to be a conscious effort to break with the pugnacious unilateralism that characterized Bush's first term and drew widespread resentment.
"Our interaction with the rest of the world must be a conversation, not a monologue," Rice said.
`time for diplomacy'
"We must use American diplomacy to help create a balance of power in the world that favors freedom. And the time for diplomacy is now."
Rice vowed to restore the State Department as the primary instrument of American statesmanship after helping to sap the authority of her predecessor Colin Powell and move his prerogatives to the White House and Pentagon.
She hailed NATO, the European Union and US allies as "our strongest partners" in the war on terror and pledged to "support and uphold the system of international rules and treaties" that prevails in the world today.
At the same time, Rice served notice the US would bow to no institution or nation if it felt action was needed to head off a recurrence of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
"Alliances and multilateral institutions can multiply the strength of freedom-loving nations," she said.
"Yet when judging a course of action, I will never forget that the true measure of its worth is its effectiveness."
Rice swore to plow ahead with the Bush administration's vision of spreading democracy throughout the world and "building an international system that is based on our shared values and the rule of law."
She unreservedly backed the US military moves into Afghanistan and Iraq as "necessary and right," rejected criticism that Washington had botched the occupation after the fall of Baghdad and refused to hint at a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops.
Under persistent questioning about the administration's attitude toward the torture of terrorism suspects, she refused to condemn tough interrogation techniques that could be used to extract intelligence information.
Only once did she appear to lose her composure, sitting stiffly and visibly angered when Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer accused her of misleading the US public about the Iraqi threat before the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
"Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like, but I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity," Rice responded crisply. "I really hope that you will not imply that I take the truth lightly."