Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned to work today after a month-long absence, welcomed back by dozens of staff members with a standing ovation and gag gifts including a football helmet, a wry reference to the concussion and blood clot that delayed her recovery after a stomach virus.
Wearing a hot pink jacket, Clinton laughed as she held aloft a white helmet printed with the State Department seal and a blue football jersey emblazoned with her last name and “112,” the record number of countries she has visited as the top U.S. diplomat over the last four years, according to photos released by the department.
Clinton, 65, was released from New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Jan. 2 after treatment for a blood clot discovered between her skull and brain during a check-up before her planned return to work a week ago.
She had last appeared in public on Dec. 7 at the end of a European trip, before falling sick with a stomach virus and canceling a visit to the Middle East and North Africa. Dehydrated, she fainted and sustained a concussion while ill at home last month, and had been recuperating and working from home before the clot was discovered.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described Clinton as healthy, delighted to be back at work and “in the pink, literally,” a reference to her fuchsia attire.
Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides presented the gag gifts on behalf of the 75 senior officials present, reminding Clinton that “Washington is a contact sport,” Nuland recounted to reporters in Washington.
“She loved it. She thought it was cool,” Nuland said. “But then, being Hillary Clinton, she wanted to get right to business. So we do what we always do in that meeting: went around the room and she heard from everybody what they’re working on and what’s coming forward.”
Clinton brought up the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last September that killed the American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, and stressed the importance of putting in place all 29 recommendations by an independent review board to improve diplomatic security before she leaves office in the coming weeks.
“She wants to have every single one of those recommendations on its way to implementation by the time her successor is sworn in and takes up his duties and that she’s expecting everybody to work hard in that regard,” Nuland said.
President Barack Obama has named Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to replace Clinton, who previously had said she would return to private life during a second Obama term.
Clinton, who because of her health was unable to testify before congressional committees last month about security failings during the Benghazi attack, was accused by conservatives such as former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton of faking her illness. Those critics backed off after she was hospitalized last month.
Clinton plans to appear on Capitol Hill to testify about the Accountability Review Board’s report once Congress is back in session following the president’s inauguration later this month and before she leaves office, Nuland said.
Nuland said Clinton was also focused on the visit this week by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama is reviewing a report by the outgoing commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, presenting options on how many U.S. troops to keep in Afghanistan after 65,000 U.S. combat forces are withdrawn by the end of 2014.
Obama and his national security team are expected to discuss with Karzai the training of Afghan security forces, the legal conditions under which U.S. troops might remain and any prospects for a peace settlement with the Taliban.
State Department officials indicated Clinton had returned to a full schedule, though her doctors have advised that overseas travel isn’t advisable for the time being.
Nuland said Clinton has been in regular communication with Kerry since he was nominated and “is 100 percent committed to having the smoothest possible transition, to helping him as much as possible, and she’ll be available as much as he needs her.”
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