Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bid the world a virtual goodbye by video link and online as she took questions yesterday from people across the globe and deflected inquiries about a possible presidential run in 2016.
Clinton plans to step down this week, following yesterday’s Senate confirmation of Democratic Massachusetts Senator John Kerry as her successor. Her next step remains a question. Clinton supporters have created a political action committee to raise money for a possible presidential run in 2016. President Barack Obama’s backers recently helped retire Clinton’s debt from her failed 2008 campaign, leaving her with a surplus.
“I am not thinking about anything like that right now,” Clinton said in answer to a young woman’s question, relayed through London, about a White House bid. “Right now, I’m not inclined to do that.”
“I am looking forward to finishing up my tenure as secretary of state and then catching up on about 20 years of sleep deprivation,” Clinton joked.
Clinton’s use of social-networking technology reflects a hallmark of her time at the State Department, where she pushed embassies to use websites run by Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. (FB) Today, the department and embassies have at least 195 Twitter accounts and 290 Facebook pages with 15 million followers.
In her responses, Clinton warned of violence in Mali spreading beyond North Africa, expressed disappointment that North Korea’s new leader may test a nuclear device, spoke of her hopes for a productive U.S.-China partnership and of the rocky relationship with Russia.
Her biggest regret, she said, is the loss of four American lives in Benghazi, Libya, in September.
Domestic issues also arose in the hour-long session held from Washington. She said Obama is advocating a pathway to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants. She also said that the increasingly partisan atmosphere in Washington has “resulted in less productivity.”
“Democracy and certainly legislative bodies require compromise,” Clinton said. “You can’t let compromise become a dirty word, because then you veer toward fanaticism.”
Asked which predecessor she identifies with most, Clinton chose William H. Seward, President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state. He was a New York senator who lost his party’s presidential nomination to Lincoln.
“There’s a little bit of a parallel here in the whole ‘team of rivals’ concept,” Clinton said, laughing. “I like his willingness to work with President Lincoln.”
The “Global Townterview” held at the Newseum in Washington was meant to wrap up Clinton’s tenure as recent health issues, including a blood clot, prevented her from taking a final tour. Clinton set records as the most traveled secretary in U.S. history, logging almost 1 million miles, according to the State Department website, to visit more than 100 countries.
The 150 people in the Newseum audience came from embassies in Washington and from the State Department’s new class of foreign service officers. Questions came in through the Twitter and Facebook websites, as well as through satellite-video links to media outlets in Beirut, Tokyo, Bogota, Lagos and London.
Clinton said her job required dealing with immediate crises and longer-term challenges such as security in North Africa. The extremist actions in Algeria and Mali are “not what the Arab revolution was about,” Clinton said.
The violence “has the potential of expanding beyond the region, which is why you see an international coalition coming together” to support Mali, Libya, Algeria, she said.
Extremism is “also a threat, as we saw in the Algerian hostage-taking crisis, to businesses, to cultural institutions” such as shrines and libraries, she said.
Democratic transitions in Arab countries such as Egypt are hobbled by the opposition’s lack of organization and unified vision, the involvement of regional actors and acts by ruling regimes, Clinton said. She warned that the process will take time and the commitment of the people.
“I don’t think you go from a top-down society that often imposed repressive regulations on people for expressing themselves overnight,” Clinton said.
The region has been a source of regret, Clinton said. Her biggest piece of unfinished business, she said, is seeing peace in the Middle East. Israel’s recent election “opens doors, not nails them shut” on the peace process, she said, and suggested the Obama administration will make another push to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table.
Obama and Kerry “will pursue this, will look for every possible opening,” she said. “I think that’s still possible.”
The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi also will stay with her, Clinton said.
“The loss of American lives in Benghazi was something I deeply regret,” she said. Clinton said she was working to ensure better protection for U.S. envoys, so “we don’t end up in bunkers abdicating from regions that are important to us.”
One questioner asked why Clinton supported sanctions on Iran that hurt ordinary people, preventing them from getting medicine. The secretary countered that claim, saying medicines aren’t part of the international sanctions that aim to halt the Islamic Republic’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“We do not want the people of Iran to suffer and certainly be deprived of necessary medicines,” Clinton said.
“But this is a dilemma for us and for the entire world,” she said. “People are very worried about what the Iranian government’s actions and intentions are.”
Clinton praised the U.S. relationship with Japan and said she hoped the Asian nation would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc of 11 countries. The U.S. shares Japan’s concerns about North Korea, Clinton said. She expressed “regret” that Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s young leader, isn’t pursuing ways to improve his people’s lives and instead is threatening to test a nuclear device.
She also expressed hope that the U.S. and China will “defy history” as “historically, a rising power and a predominant power have had clashes, whether they were economic or military.”
“Neither of us want to see that happen,” Clinton added.
She also touched on tensions with Russia, saying that U.S. nongovernmental organizations have been pressured into leaving the country.
“It’s challenging right now,” she said. “Russia ended all of our aid programs, where we were working on ending tuberculosis, helping abused children, and so much else.”
She told an Indian questioner that the 35-year sentence given to David Headley, the American involved in the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed more than 160 people, reflected the “useful information” he has given authorities.
“This sentence represents a punishment he richly deserves for his participation, but also a recognition that he has played and is expected to continue to play in supporting Indian and American efforts to prevent the kind of horrific attack that occurred in Mumbai,” Clinton said.
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