Despite being grounded on doctor’s orders after a bout of ill health, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday took a virtual round-the-world trip to say a final farewell.
Using satellites and the Internet, she hooked into some of the world’s major television networks to answer questions from local anchors and audiences in what was billed as a “Global Townterview” by the State Department.
Clinton, who has travelled almost a million miles, apparently held 1,700 meetings with world leaders and suffered some 570 aeroplane meals, never moved from her seat in the Washington-based Newseum during the hour-long interview.
It was one of her last public events before she steps down on Friday after four years as America’s top diplomat and hands over to Senator John Kerry, who was confirmed as the next secretary of state by 94 votes to three on Tuesday.
Taking questions from every continent and cities from Beirut to Tokyo, London to New Delhi, and on to Bogota via Lagos, Clinton was quizzed on the burning issues of the day.
There was even a question sent by email from a Chilean scientist working in the Antarctic, asking about America’s future position on mineral resources there. The answer was “we are working on that.”
Clinton was thrilled to get the question though, saying: “It’s the one continent I haven’t been to, so I’m very jealous that you’re down there.”
With the threat of Islamic extremism topping the headlines, Clinton agreed with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s anchor Leigh Sales that “historically” not enough focus has been given to North Africa.
Yet, in the wake of the Arab Spring, she said “it’s also exciting to see people in North Africa after so many decades of oppression looking to find their own way forward democratically.”
On the Middle East peace process, the outgoing secretary of state said she believed the recent election in Israel “opens doors, not nails them shut.”
Clinton said one of her biggest regrets was the death of four Americans killed in an attack on the US mission in Benghazi in September.
Later as she did the rounds of the US television networks with back-to-back interviews, she told CNN that despite being aware of the increasing threat in the Libyan city, “no one – not the ambassador, security professionals, the intelligence community – ever recommended closing that mission.”
But in both the town hall event and the later interviews, the questions kept coming back – at is Clinton, a former first lady and New York senator, planning to do next?
There’s definitely another memoir in the works, and she promised at the town hall that she’ll keep working for women’s rights.
“This has been the cause of my life and will continue to be as I leave the secretary of state’s office because we are hurting ourselves,” she said.
But as usual, she deftly side-stepped the question of whether she’ll run for president in the 2016 elections, even as the first political action committee to raise funds for a possible campaign was officially launched by a bunch of fans.
“I have absolutely no plans to run,” she said, but admitted that suddenly waking up with no job to go to would be a shock.
“It’s been my whole life. I mean, I’ve had a job ever since I was 13 years old. When I wasn’t in school, I was working.
“When I wake up, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, to have the luxury of nowhere to go, nothing to do, no frantic call about calling some leader about some impending crisis, I’m actually interested to see how that goes,” she said.
It was possible she might work together with the Clinton Global Initiative founded by her husband, former president Bill Clinton, as well as with her daughter Chelsea. “We’re going to look to see how we can join our efforts together,” she said.
But she also insisted that her recent health scare, when she suffered a concussion and a blood clot, would not “factor in at all” in any decision-making about whether to make one more bid for the White House.