US secretary of state Assures Europe of Ties Before Russia Talks

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to reassure Europeans that U.S. overtures to Russia won't weaken trans-Atlantic links, as she spoke in Brussels before heading to a meeting with her Russian counterpart.

"Our engagement with Russia in no way undermines our support for countries like Georgia or the Baltics or the Balkans or anywhere else in Europe," Clinton told aspiring leaders in a town hall-style forum at the European Parliament today that was Web cast to 31 countries. Those nations have a right "to be independent, free, make their own decisions and chart their own course without undue interference from Russia."

The exchange was part of Clinton's drive to improve America's image abroad during her first round of foreign visits. She'll meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later today in Geneva, where she plans to pursue the Obama administration's plans to solidify partnerships on key issues, even with occasional adversaries, reported Bloomberg.

Clinton's hour-long forum with European Union interns and young staff was the highest-level U.S. visit to the European Parliament since former President Ronald Reagan visited in 1985, said Hans-Gert Poettering, president of the EU assembly. She spoke in a round chamber in a building built in 1998 and named for Altiero Spinelli, an Italian who was one of the EU's founding fathers.

Her responses to questions covering Israeli settlements in the West Bank, climate change, gay rights and bureaucratic complexity won her a standing ovation and raves from Poettering.

"What you said mostly could have been said by a European," he said in closing. "With you, Madam Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, with your President, we know now again we share the same values."

Clinton, 61, has met with young people or women's groups at almost every stop on this week's swing through the Middle East and Europe. She did the same on her Asia tour last month, blending outreach to non-governmental organizations into a back- to-back schedule of diplomatic talks.

On Israeli settlements built in territory that ultimately may become part of an independent Palestinian state, Clinton repeated the position held during the Bush administration that they are "unhelpful."

Other than a similar response during a television interview on the trip, she ducked the question during media briefings in the Middle East. She said the U.S. would address such issues after the Israelis form a new government in the wake of last month's elections.

She said the Obama administration isn't afraid of tackling climate change at the same time as it tries to defuse the economic crisis. She referenced U.S. plans for green technology, renewable energy and a new electricity grid that also will create jobs.

"We are long overdue in stepping up and making these investments," Clinton said. "We in a sense used the economic crisis to actually get them through over political objections and other kinds of obstacles that had to be moved out of the way."

A young man wearing a T-shirt that said "I love Hillary" caught her attention and asked her views on discrimination against gays as a human rights issue.

"The persecution and discrimination against gays and lesbians is something that we take very seriously," Clinton said. "We would hope that over the next few years we could have some influence in trying to change those attitudes."

Clinton said she hopes that she sees, within her lifetime, "the end to this kind of discriminatory treatment and a recognition that human rights are the inalienable right of every person no matter who that person loves."

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