WASHINGTON—Despite being grounded on doctor’s orders after a bout of ill-health, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday took a round-the-world trip from Antarctica to London 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 traveled almost a million miles, apparently held 1,700 meetings with world leaders and suffered some 570 airplane meals, never moved from her seat in the Washington-based Newseum during her hour-long journey.
It was one of her last public events as she prepares to step down on Friday after four years as America’s top diplomat, to be replaced by Senator John Kerry, whose full Senate confirmation was expected later Tuesday.
But she was able to do what she says she loves doing best, saying in her 59 townhall meetings:
“I’ve heard what’s on people’s minds and what their questions were. And so it’s been a great two-way communication.”
Moving around the world 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 elections in Israel “opens doors, not nails them shut.”
She also lauded ties with Japan, but regretted that North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un had not taken steps to end his people’s isolation.
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.
And she revealed that the past secretary of state she admired and identified with the most was William Seward who had run against Abraham Lincoln to be the president and then served under him.
But the questions kept coming back to the elephant in the room: what is Clinton, a former first lady and New York senator, planning to do next?
There’s definitely another memoir in the works. “I don’t know what I’ll say in it yet,” she said with a laugh.
And while the 2016 presidential elections may already be on the horizon, Clinton as usual deftly side-stepped the question of whether she’ll run.
“I am not thinking about anything like that right now. I am looking forward to finishing up my tenure as secretary of state and then catching up on about 20 years of sleep deprivation,” she chuckled.
She assured the audience though that she would keep on 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.
Denouncing the death of an Indian woman who was the victim of a gang-rape, she added: “Who knows what she could have contributed to India’s future?”