U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that Israel had a right to defend itself and that Palestinian rocket attacks on the Jewish territory could not go unanswered.

"We support Israel's right to self-defense. The [Palestinian] rocket barrages which are getting closer and closer to populated areas [in Israel] cannot go unanswered," Clinton said in her first news conference at the State Department.

"It is regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza," she added.

Clinton also said that U.S. President Barack Obama's first days in office have made it clear that a more open Iranian approach to the international community could benefit Iran. She said this was reflected in statements Obama made in an interview Monday with an Arab TV network.

"There is a clear opportunity for the Iranians, as the president expressed in his interview, to demonstrate some willingness to engage meaningfully with the international community," she said. "Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them."

She said the administration is undertaking a wide-ranging and comprehensive survey of U.S. policy options toward Iran.

"There is just a lot that we are considering that I'm not prepared to discuss," she added.

More broadly, Clinton said her initial round of telephone calls with world leaders has yielded positive signs.

"There's a great exhalation of breath going on around the world as people express their appreciation for the new direction that's being set and the team that's [been] put together by the president," she said.

"In areas of the world that have felt either overlooked or not receiving appropriate attention to the problems they are experiencing, there's a welcoming of the engagement that we are promising," she said.

"It's not any kind of repudiation or indictment of the past eight years so much as an excitement and an acceptance of how we are going to be doing business."

She dismissed suggestions that Obama's foreign policy team would find it difficult to work together. She said all are determined to find the best way to execute the president's foreign policy objectives.

"We have a lot of damage to repair," she said, referring to U.S. foreign relations as they stood when President George W. Bush left office January 20.

Clinton said she spoke by telephone today with top Iraqi officials to make clear that there will be continuity in U.S. policy.

She said her call was intended to reinforce our commitment to a democratic and sovereign Iraq and the importance of their provincial elections. Iraqis are scheduled to vote on Saturday in a set of elections that U.S. and Iraqi officials hope will further solidify progress toward national political reconciliation.