WASHINGTON, D.C.: Madeleine Albright, set to become the nation's first woman Secretary of State, began confirmation hearings Wednesday before a friendly Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It's been a real love-fest" reports TIME diplomatic correspondent Dean Fischer after the first day of hearings. Having served four years as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and proven herself an expert on European affairs, Albright is well known to the committee, but today's hearing provided senators with a chance to explore Albright's positions issue by issue. As the woman who delivered the head of former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Albright enjoys broad support from Congressional Republicans -- especially committee chairman Jesse Helms, who admires her tough style. Still, there are points of disagreement. "I do think there are some members of the committee who have reservations on proceeding too quickly on the expansion of NATO," Fischer says. The committee also explored Albright's thoughts on the Middle East and Asia, areas of relative weakness for the ambassador. "In the Middle East, there will be no change in policy," Fischer reports, "but there will probably be a difference in style. I doubt you'll see her shuttling between Damascus and Jerusalem, as Secretary of State Warren Christopher has." In addition to the Middle East and Nato expansion, relations with China and encouraging reform at the United Nations will top the U.S. diplomatic agenda in 1997.