Interview of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Glenn Kessler and Mary Beth Sheridan
Monday, September 14, 2009 4:00 PM

QUESTION: This was originally supposed to be a six-month look. It's now more like an eight-month look.


QUESTION: But you know, so it goes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's fine. Yeah.

QUESTION: I don't think anyone will notice. And one of the things that we've been thinking about is that you're the first politician to hold this job in more than 30 years, since Muskie.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's right. Since Muskie. Right.

QUESTION: And in fact, then you have to go back to Jimmy Byrnes during World War II to find another politician to hold this job. And then, sometimes -- just it seems like you've had -- sometimes you've had -- your language has been blunter than your typical diplomat.


QUESTION: And I'm just wondering, sometimes those remarks -- I wasn't able to tell if this was you trying to move the policy in a particular direction or you were just still getting to grips with the tenor of diplomacy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No -- well, first of all, I think it is an interesting observation which I hadn't really thought about that I come to this job from having been in electoral politics, which I actually believe gives me a certain perspective that is very helpful in dealing with other countries' leaders. Because everybody -- whether you're even in a full-fledged dynamic democracy like ours or in a closed authoritarian regime, there are politics everywhere. People have to figure out ways of accommodating the interests of the people that they represent. And I have found it to be very useful in a lot of my one-on-one conversations with leaders in many different settings to say, look, I understand that you have a political problem on this, but let's talk about how you could manage it or solve it in a way that would give us common ground. So I've actually found I have a credibility that comes with it. And I have even in a number of meetings said, look, I am not a diplomat, I am someone who comes to this position from a political background, so I may be speaking to you more bluntly than someone else in my position might do, but I also believe I am speaking in a context that understands not just your foreign policy challenges but the mix of societal pressures and political currents that make you say what you're saying.

So I have found it -- I have used it to some positive effect, at least in my assessment, in the private meetings. And publicly, I think that it has been useful to state positions and to try to put into context some of our attitudes toward policies that other countries are pursuing that we're trying to influence.

So I mean, that's how I see it. But you are an expert in sort of following diplomatic leadership, and so it probably is somewhat different. I mean, I would imagine it's somewhat different from the people you've covered for the last X number of years. But it is who I am, but I also think it is a useful approach in trying to test out reactions, trying to frame our policies. I mean, the President is a different kind of president, and he chose me, in part, because I did have a political background. And he and often, in our meetings, talk about the politics that leaders are facing, whether it's on climate change or on North Korea. I mean, there are politics everywhere.

And I -- one of -- this struck me, Glenn, like 15 years ago, and I remember exactly where it struck me. I was in Minsk, of all places. We were there on a presidential visit. And Belarus had just gone through one of the soft revolutions, obviously post-breakup of the Soviet Union. And the people who had led the efforts were like those who had been in the first wave across Central and Eastern Europe; they were often academics, they were professors, they were poets and playwrights, they were people who had the imagination to envision a different future for their countries. And they had often either gone into exile or imprisonment. They paid a price for speaking out and expressing the political opposition to the Soviet Union.

So we were at a lunch, and the first wave of kind of post-Soviet Union leadership was there, as were a lot of the kind of Communist apparatchik members who had been in the government. And I remember watching the interactions, and I was thinking to myself the Communist Party was politics for young people growing up in the former Soviet Union. If you were interested in influencing policy, you didn't have to be a true believer, and a lot of them weren't. It was a career choice. It was an opportunity that was present for them. And I was watching how the sort of old Communist members, Communist Party members, were working the room, were slapping people on the back, were telling jokes. And it was so striking to me because I thought politics is politics is politics, and there's a personality that gravitates toward it and kind of a temperament which enjoys it, and there's going to be a big -- there's going to be sort of a turnover in the first generation right after the fall of the Soviet Union, and I predict that it'll be people who were in the Communist Party, who are coming back from the Communist regime. They may or may not have changed, but they are people who enjoy this. They like being part of the decision-making apparatus of their countries.

So when I go into these places, even with one-party states, these people do their politics, but in a very narrow context from what we're used to. And oftentimes, they'll say something to me like, well, I could never persuade our people of that. Well, yes you could. (Laughter.) Actually, you could persuade them if I could persuade you to try to persuade them. It just may take a little bit of different politics. But it's been interesting to me how this has played out.

QUESTION: One specific example I was thinking of, early on in the Administration you publicly called for a full settlement freeze, no natural growth, full stop on that. And some of your predecessors might have said that privately but not put it out there in a public domain. And Senator Mitchell has been going back and forth negotiating this, and it looks like whatever he comes back with is not going to be actually to the standard that you originally set publicly. So does that -- I mean, and so for instance, diplomats would say, oh, I don't want to set an expectation that we can't meet.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but the President said exactly what I said too on settlements.

QUESTION: Right. But I think he -- didn't he say it privately and then you let it out publicly?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I mean, it was kind of a --

QUESTION: And then he said it later publicly.

SECRETARY CLINTON: It was a one-two, yes. But --

QUESTION: Maybe it was planned.

SECRETARY CLINTON: But it was presidential policy --


SECRETARY CLINTON: -- we were going to state that view, and we did so. But maybe because we both had been in politics, we know very well that that's when the negotiation starts. And I'm very -- I am very much of the mind that others have said this, it was in the Roadmap. I mean, others have said the same thing. But I'm not -- I wasn't sure whether either the American public or the Israeli public knew that we were restating what we believed was in the best interests of Israel as well as what the United States position was.

And so it's been against the backdrop of that very strong statement that we've been moving. Now, we aren't ready to announce where we're ending up, but I will predict to you that we will end up in a place that no Israeli government has ever gone before. And I think that is to the credit of the Israeli Government, which wants to get back to negotiations that can lead to a two-state security with the security of Israel guaranteed and with the Palestinians having the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves.

QUESTION: Can I just ask -- you said in terms of the language you sometimes use that it's a useful opportunity in trying to test out reactions.


QUESTION: What -- any specific examples?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it is important -- because I do think that leaders operate within political contexts which we may not identify as political because it appears it's a top-down hierarchical position, but it is. There's politics. Politics is inescapable. So testing out certain ideas gives you a chance to get some feedback. If you do it just in one-on-one meetings, you do it very quietly, you often don't ¿ you can have a conversation with somebody about an issue and they might even be willing to agree, but then when it goes, quote, "public," they get blowback. And so they can't manage it and then they retreat.

Whereas, if you're having the private conversation -- and these are limited instances because most of this doesn't play out on two tracks simultaneously, but sometimes it does -- you see what it can promote. Probably the defense umbrella is a perfect example. For me, getting that out there was aimed at the Iranians as much as anybody else, but it also provoked a discussion among our Gulf allies and within Israel, and it was a broader conversation. And I think it's been and will continue to be a useful conversation.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, that's interesting because that was a moment I was thinking about because I was there, and you said that and, actually, amidst of all your reporters following you there was a big debate. Well, what did she mean? What was this about? Is this something new? And then a member of your staff came back and kind of said it's not anything new.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I've said it several times.



QUESTION: Well, but we kind of downplayed it. I -- maybe to my everlasting regret, decided, well, it's not a story. One of my competitors put it on the front page. So I don't know -- what was the -- I'm not asking you about story play --


QUESTION: -- but it sounds like you're saying that you wanted to get that out there to generate a discussion.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, yeah. I think it's an important discussion to have. And it wasn't new. I had said it before, so in that respect that's accurate.

QUESTION: I think you said it during the campaign.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, but I've also -- I also said it since the campaign.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. But nevertheless, it is a topic that deserves a lot of airing, and I think you can't just pop up one day and say let's go talk to our friends and allies about doing this. It needs to be out -- people need to digest it, think about it, react to it, put meat on the bones of it. So I thought it was an important discussion to start.

QUESTION: I see. And so what has been the reaction?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Very interesting. I mean, we're still digesting it. But it is something that people now raise proactively. I know the Israelis were worried about it because they thought, well, that assumes that we're accepting an Iranian nuclear weapons capacity. Not at all. We were trying to influence the Iranian calculation among those who might think through, well, will this really make us safer or not, will this really give us the edge we're looking for or not. So I think it spawned a lot of conversation.

QUESTION: And was this something that had been discussed with the White House beforehand or --

SECRETARY CLINTON: It's something that I've discussed at the White House, yes.

QUESTION: I see, I see.


QUESTION: So it was not --

SECRETARY CLINTON: It didn't come out of the blue, no. Yeah.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. Actually, in what concrete ways would you say you have helped shape policy on Iran and North Korea?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We will begin our participation in the multilateral process October 1st with Bill Burns, and I am very much involved in working with what our policy will be, how it's presented, how we bring others along. I spend a lot of time talking to our allies and to other P-5 members. So I don't want to set myself above the process, but I want to anchor myself in the decision-making process, I guess is the best way to say this. I mean, I'm a member of every small group that talks about Iranian policy. I'll be making a speech this Friday at Brookings to preview UNGA, where I will be sort of previewing our approach toward Iran. So I think I am one of the key people trying to navigate through the difficult waters that Iran represents to us.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that you are among those who have been skeptical as to whether or not this approach, this outreach, will yield something concrete?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we all are. I mean, I think that the President made a decision to reach out with, as he said in his Inaugural Address, with an open hand if the other side would unfurl their -- unclench their fist. And we certainly, from the beginning, saw the P-5+1 process as one we wanted to actively be part of. During the campaign and even before as a senator, I said I thought the Bush Administration had made a mistake outsourcing our Iran policy to the UK, Germany, and France, that we didn't want to be on the sidelines of the P-5+1 process any longer. So that was a natural extension of what I believe should be done.

But I also want to see the results. I mean, I have said repeatedly that we're willing to engage, but we're also thinking hard about what sanctions would be available were we to get nothing through a multilateral and/or a bilateral engagement.

QUESTION: Well, I guess if you -- could you be just a little more specific in terms of when people look at your record so far -- it's only been eight months or so -- but it sounds like you've been part of the process, an important part of the process on Iran. But where has sort of your input -- or can you give us a sense of how you've pulled people together or how -- what exactly you do in terms of your working with the White House on this, or do you sense that this is an issue the White House has sort of -- is sort of --

SECRETARY CLINTON: But we don't see it that way. I mean, I know -- I mean, maybe that is sort of the usual paradigm, but I feel very comfortable and confident in what I'm doing to participate. I mean, I have said before I consider myself the President's chief foreign policy advisor, the country's chief diplomat, and the State Department's chief executive. I mean, that's how I see my role, and I'm working in all three of those areas.

And we have an intense concentration on issues over here in the State Department which we work up, which we engage in very actively, both at the IPC and the DC level. I'm deeply involved in working with and in giving direction to our special envoys and to others who are carrying out the Administration's policy. And I am very active in the White House process, which is very much the tool that we use to bring the different parts of the government together. My policy suggestions are presented in those small groups and we work out any differences that we might have, we set the recommendations for the President, we meet often at length with the President to hammer out the specifics. A lot of these issue have foreign policy and national security implications that have to be fully vetted. So I think it's a multiply layered process, as it should be, because I carry both my own views, sometimes there are others within the building who have a slightly different perspective -- I try to be an honest broker of those wherever that occurs.

So it's not an either/or. It's not like, well, what are you doing compared to what others are doing. We really have ¿ and to the President's credit, he has encouraged us to build a team. And it is a team where we're not all in lockstep. I mean, we express very strong disagreements. But it is one where, at the end of the day, we work toward consensus. And sometimes -- and most times we've reached consensus, but sometimes we present alternatives to the President. And yet we don't take it out of school. We don't try to win the argument in the public arena. That's not something that we think is appropriate and it's certainly not what the President wants.

QUESTION: It seems like you spend a lot of time at the White House.


QUESTION: Which I don't know if that's been surprising or not to you when you signed up for this job.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Somewhat. It has been somewhat. Yeah.

QUESTION: And I'm just wondering also if it's as -- and I don't know if this helps in terms of when you were having these discussions and these debates, the fact that you were in the White House as First Lady, the idea that ultimately it's a team, we've got to work together, we've got to take our direction from the President. I mean, is that --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, I think that's a really astute observation. Yeah, I mean, we are all in our positions at the President's either direct or indirect agreement. I mean, the Vice President is there because he asked him to join his ticket, I'm there, the White House staff -- everybody is there because this President chose us to serve with him in furtherance of his priorities and values for the country. And I take that very seriously, and I saw it over those eight years when I was there. And I think you can disagree with the President, you can argue for different policies, but at the end of the day you have to be part of a team that is there to serve the country and the President who the country elected. It may sound very old-fashioned, but that's sort of how I view it.

And I know that it was so striking to me when Henry Kissinger said this is the first time I can remember when I talk to you and I talk to the NSC and I get the same story.

QUESTION: We have the same amazement and confusion. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, I know. No, but I think -- Glenn, I think that's a really fair assessment on your part or question on your part, because it is how I see my role and my job and how I think it's best for the country and the President that we all operate. But we are a very -- we have a very vigorous set of discussions. I mean, there's nobody who's just sort of holding his or her hand up and saying, okay, whatever you tell me, I'll do. No, I mean, it's a really robust process that we are engaged in. But at the end of it, we think that we owe our best advice and counsel to the President, and that's what we're trying to do.

QUESTION: I see. I mean, many of us reporters have earned our bread and butter writing about the disputes between DOD and State.


QUESTION: And I gather that, actually, that has -- I haven't found much evidence of it.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. Well, there are no significant policy disputes. There may be differences in approach about how to do something. Sometimes in our conversations, DOD will have a certain perspective, State will have a certain perspective, and we'll sort of argue it out or work it out.

We do have some structural challenges because so much of what State historically did has migrated to the Defense Department, and so part of our planning over here is how we can be entrusted with a lot of these responsibilities again so that we don't militarize American foreign policy. But that's a structural issue that predates either this President or either Bob Gates or me. But on a personal level, on a policy level, we've had a very good working relationship.

QUESTION: Can you also talk about complete -- having on the record sort of with Iran and what you've -- your sort of role there (inaudible). How about Afghanistan? I mean, it's been said that you had a very strong position and argued, in effect, unlike Vice President Biden, for more troops, that you were ¿ you were (inaudible) from that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I'm deeply involved in what we're trying to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the President's strategy is sound from my perspective; it's just difficult to deal with these two challenges that each country represents. And we're trying to sort our way through that. And so I've been very involved in working with the White House, working with Holbrooke and his team. And obviously, we have some decisions that we're going to be teeing up to make over the next weeks and months.

It's a very -- people who know a lot about foreign policy problems of, say, the last 30, 40 years often just shake their head at the complexity of what we are confronting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the threat posed by al-Qaida and their extremist allies emanating from the border area there. So I think about it every day. I don't take a position and say this is where I'm standing no matter what the facts are, no matter what the future may hold, because we're all trying to figure out how to get it more right than not. And we are working that through now.

QUESTION: Just quickly to go over some issues, on Iran, is the supreme leader still the address for negotiations (inaudible) an outreach, these letters and that sort of thing?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. I believe so, and I think that the response to the P-5+1 offer of last spring would clearly not have come forward without it being approved there.

QUESTION: So that -- what happened in the election period has not really changed the Administration's calculation?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, no, but there's a lot of ongoing instability and jockeying for power. But that's up to the Iranians, so what we are doing is dealing with the people who hold the power now.

QUESTION: Right, right. What are you hoping to get from the Syrians? I mean, do you think they can be peeled away from Iran (inaudible) any role, capacity to be part of a regional peace agreement?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We hope so. We have been reaching out to the Syrians. I sent the first delegation, as you know. George Mitchell has been there. We've sent a team from CENTCOM. We think that the Syrians can do more on border security to protect the Iraqis and our troops from the infiltration of foreign fighters and al-Qaida operatives.

But we also know that Syria has to be part of any comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East. So we're going to send an ambassador back, as you know. We're working to test the relationship and see where it goes from there.

QUESTION: How would you assess your efforts at engagement? I mean, there are some analysts who have argued, oh, it's a complete bust -- North Korea, Iran.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that's a misreading. I mean, first of all, our assessment was that we had to rebuild relationships, and engagement was a channel for doing that. We were very pleased by the results of the UN Security Council resolution on North Korea. There was no guarantee that would happen, but we think that the relationships that I and the President and others have been building with leaders in China and Russia were important steps toward getting agreement on that Security Council resolution. We think that working hard with allies and partners on Iranian sanctions has resulted in a much stronger position in Europe than we saw when we took office. I think the issues around the President's outreach to the Islamic world have bought a lot of goodwill and an openness that wasn't there before.

We're really laying foundation. We're not claiming that building those relationships, reaching out, as I do on all my trips, doing town halls, doing interviews on popular TV channels -- we're not claiming that doing that, in and of itself, produces positive results, but we think it builds an environment in which it's more likely that we can have some positive outcomes -- no guarantees.

And it kind of goes back to my original point about politics. By reaching out to the people in these countries, through the President's speeches or my activities when I travel, we really believe that we can present a view of a America, maybe in general more understanding about what we stand for and what we are trying to accomplish, which then does affect leaders' decisions. I mean, if you have public opinion being more positive toward America and particularly toward this Administration, that has an impact in our diplomatic relationships. So it's not some bright line that's drawn -- engagement or no engagement. I mean, it's a continuing pattern that we think leads to a more positive environment for us to put forth some of the views that we think are important.

Look at what we're trying to do in -- Mary Beth knows what we're trying to do in joining forces with other countries in our hemisphere on what happened in Honduras. I mean, I think a lot of people were surprised that we took a stand for democracy and constitutional order. And it engendered a lot of positive reaction from both leaders and opinion makers and publics throughout Latin America. Have we solved the problem? No, but we're sure trying. And we'd rather be caught trying to solve it than taking a position that was adverse to democracy and constitutional order, or standing on the sidelines.

So when we engaged in the Organization of American States on Cuba, we came with a willingness to open the door, but only under certain circumstances. And we worked really, really hard, and because we had done a lot of outreach and talking with representatives of other countries, we eventually got to a result that we thought was the best result.

So this is -- none of this is written in some formula somewhere, but treating other countries and their leaders with respect, listening to them, trying to find common interests and common ground wherever possible, is the way that the President and I would prefer to operate. And I think we've put some very good foundational work in, and we're going to try to build on it.

QUESTION: Do you find -- speaking of Honduras, I mean, despite your efforts, the problem hasn't been solved. And it's this very poor, tiny, inconsequential country that is thoroughly reliant on the U.S. in terms of trade, aid, et cetera. Why has that proven such an obstacle for the United States?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but see, I view it differently. Maybe it's a glass half full/half empty. I think the very firm stand that we've taken and the actions that I've authorized probably has helped to prevent violence, which is good because we want to try to solve these issues peacefully.

QUESTION: Violence by the (inaudible)?


QUESTION: By the --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, either side. I mean within Honduras, yeah. But no, I mean, not every problem is solvable. Some only can be managed. And -- but yet, I think that, in and of itself, is probably positive. You don't want to leave them to fester and get worse. So we've at least managed -- helped to manage this in a way that is not satisfactory in terms of the outcome, but certainly put us on the right side of the dispute.

QUESTION: I was talking to Anne-Marie Slaughter, who said that -- this was her recollection so I just wanted to check it with you -- that there had been a foreign policy dinner she had organized on development, and she said that at the end of the dinner, you kind of said, how about if we have a --



SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, I can remember exactly. It was up on the eighth floor.

QUESTION: Right. And I'm just -- did that just occur to you?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It did. It did just occur to me. As I was listening to the discussion, which was very, very active and involved by everybody, I was thinking I've been going around saying we have three pillars of foreign policy -- defense, diplomacy, development -- testified about it, talked about it, and yet we don't really have a framework that the United States Government puts out for how we're going to be doing diplomacy and development. I was on the Armed Services Committee. I saw the very considerable impact that the QDR had because the Defense Department organizes itself. It does this process. It gets buy-in from all of the different elements within DOD, and then it presents it. It presents it -- obviously, it goes through the interagency process, but it kind of presents it -- okay, here's where we are and here's where we want to be and here's what will get us there. It's an incredibly useful tool for helping to organize the Congress and to try to reach out to the public insofar as the public is concerned.

So I was listening to this and I thought, wow, why don't we do this, because we don't have a framework. I mean, every administration that comes in, we all talk about how we have to deal with the problems that we either -- what is the American policy? Now, granted, you may have a different take if you have a Republican president or a Democratic president, but there are certain things that really should stand the test of time that we've got to begin articulating. So that's why I said, well, let's consider doing this.

And the more I thought about it, the more excited I got in trying it out with people, because it's part of what I'm trying to do here, and that is to explain better to our own country what it is we are attempting to accomplish at State and AID. How do I go to somebody who's an unemployed auto worker or a family worried about losing their home or a small business person struggling with healthcare costs and say, yeah, but I still want to spend money on setting up a consulate here and I want to spend money trying educate girls here and lower maternal mortality and come up with job creation there? I mean, how do I explain that unless it is anchored in a framework that Americans can see and understand which explains why what we do in diplomacy and development is in direct relation to the further of American interests and values?

So I'm very excited about it. And Jack and Anne-Marie are going to be -- well, they already are -- kind of heading it up. And it's hard. I mean, the process at DOD -- they've refined it over years, but it's a very challenging process. And we're just doing it for the first time, so I'm very excited about it, but it's going to be -- it's going to be a challenge to get it right and to really say what we mean and to have the buy-in that we are looking for.

QUESTION: You've probably seen the polling. I think if you ask -- the polling shows you could ask Americans how much does America spend on foreign aid. The numbers are like 50 percent.


QUESTION: We spend 50 percent of our budget on foreign aid.

SECRETARY CLINTON: It all goes to those foreigners, not that anybody can really describe it. But -- and to be fair, we have to do a better job on managing our resources. We have to do a better job on getting a handle on all these contracting issues like your story. I mean, I was outraged. But it's part of a bigger problem. We have diminished the capacity of our State Department and AID to do this work. We have hired so many contractors, and the money gets siphoned away. So on all of these fronts, we've got to take a hard look and be very honest about what we do right and what we don't do so well, and then put forth ideas about how we believe we should remedy the problems.

But I don't see any other way to do it. I don't want to be sitting here talking to you in a year or two years or however long I'm around and say, well --

QUESTION: Eight. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I'll be so old. (Laughter.) And say, look, we saw these problems, we deplored them, we regretted them, we fulminated about them, and we still are living with them. I want to do everything I can to try to get as many of them off our plate as possible. And I think this QDDR gives us one tool for doing that.

QUESTION: Are you enjoying this job?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I'm loving it. Yeah. I mean, it's really a hard job. You've noticed that because you've watched people up close. I mean, it is a 24/7 job. When I'm asleep, people are awake 12 hours away in the line.

QUESTION: Taking calls in the night? A 3 a.m. call?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Some. I get some. But I feel like this is such an important moment in history. We have so many big problems and so many of them are incredibly difficult. And that's why some can be solved, some have to be managed, but we have to give it our best shot and do everything we can. I mean, it's -- I mean, I was in New York on 9/11 and I spoke at an event with families of victims and first responders. And it's a big responsibility. I mean, the President bears the weight of it because he's responsible for everything, but I feel the weight of it pretty significantly myself.

QUESTION: What's your biggest frustration in the job?

SECRETARY CLINTON: My biggest frustration? I don't know that I'd call it a frustration; it's just that there are so many of these issues that are -- whose complexity make easy answers unachievable. I mean, you look at them, they are so hard, and each path you might take to trying to manage one or solve another has all these consequences, many of which are unintended or even unforeseen. It's not a frustration; it's just a recognition that what might seem easy from 30,000 feet or from some armchair commentator, there are so many ramification of every one of these tough issues we're looking at. You do this, then consequences over here, you don't do this, then consequences over there. Just trying to sort it out.

I mean, I sit every night and I try to think through what I have to do the next day and how do I move the agenda forward, who do I have to see, who do I have to talk to. But I was explaining to somebody that, I mean, I go in every day thinking I'm going to work on what I've laid out, and invariably there'll be something that is not at all foreseen, or maybe it's on the agenda but we didn't think we'd have to deal with it till later. So it's not frustrating; it's just so challenging. That's, I guess, a word that I would use.

QUESTION: And is it -- I mean, from the senate -- the perspective of where you were in the Senate, does it seem more complex now that you've over here?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. I've joked about this. I've said when I was in the Senate -- and Philippe was there with me for much of the time -- when all else failed on some issue that was incredibly difficult, write a letter, write a letter to the President or write a letter to the Secretary. (Laughter.) I wrote so many of those letters, and I receive a lot of those letters. Because you are -- you're trying to make a difference. You're trying to influence policy when you're in the legislative branch, and there are a lot of ways you do that -- in writing and voting on legislation and all the rest of it. But I now see the full range of everything. And yeah, it's humbling, to say the least.

QUESTION: Yeah, I guess you've probably heard this story from Madeleine Albright, where her last act when she was working for Muskie in the Senate was to write a letter to the National Security Advisor. She sent it on Friday. She arrive for work on Monday at the National Security Council as the legislative aide to Brzezinski, and her first act was to write the answer back. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I had not heard that. That is a great story. That is such a classic Madeleine story. She has the greatest stories. Did you see she's doing -- she did a book on her pins.

QUESTION: Oh, really?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I just got an invitation during UNGA, where somebody's hosting a party for her for rolling out her book about her pins. And I think that she's going to tell a story about each of the pins, and kind of where she got it and what it meant to her. So she'll have some great stories. She always does.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. But it's a quintessential Washington story.


QUESTION: It depends where you -- what is it? Where you stand is where you sit?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, where you sit is where you stand. That's right. Exactly. That's right. That's a great story. I have to remember that.

Well, we were talking about some of the G-20 work, and we're doing a lot of the work over here in preparation for it. And I heard a phrase I've never heard before, which was -- I said to somebody, well, who's doing this? And the answer was one of the sous sherpas. (Laughter.) I've never heard that. I said, like a sous chef? Sous sherpas. I couldn't believe it.

QUESTION: Yes, and sherpa is a bad enough term.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Sherpa is a bad enough term. Exactly. I always envision these poor people walking up Mount Everest with their load of papers for the G-20 or the NATO summit or APEC or whatever.

QUESTION: You actually have a former sherpa as an under secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I said to -- well, Steinberg was a former sherpa.

QUESTION: Oh, right. Of course. That's right.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. So who was the other one you were thinking?

QUESTION: Hormats.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Hormats. Yeah, he was a sherpa. That's right. So we should have a little sherpa list here.

QUESTION: That's right. Two former sherpas, two former cabinet members on your staff --

SECRETARY CLINTON: And a partridge in a pear tree. (Laughter.)

Well, this is great. Anything else?

QUESTION: Can I ask you one more, if you don't mind?


QUESTION: Of all the trips you've taken as Secretary, the longest was Africa.


QUESTION: Why 11 days? Why so much attention to a subject that some people might think, well, why don't you spend 11 days in Pakistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there are a couple of reasons for that. I have a long, abiding interest in Africa. The President has a very strong and personal interest in Africa. Given the press of events, the President was not likely to make an extended trip to Africa this year, but we were very pleased he got to go to Ghana and make his historic speech in Accra. So I thought, and the President agreed when I presented it to him, that we needed to demonstrate that our first priority includes -- our first list of priorities includes Africa. And what we're doing on food security, what we're doing on climate change, what we're doing on denying safe haven to al-Qaida and other terrorists, what we're doing on energy ¿ I mean, Africa has a big role in all of that. And so we wanted to send that message. And I think we did.

And one of the events that we are going to have at UNGA -- again, at my suggestion, and the President immediately agreed -- was to have the President host a lunch for heads of state from Sub-Saharan Africa. Because his message of accountability and transparency and democracy and good governance, which I reiterated as I traveled around, is one that he wants to keep raising and trying to impress upon the leaders of Africa and to look for ways that we can help them do more along that way. So it was important to us personally, but it was also important to our agenda.

QUESTION: Was it frustrating that the comment in the Congo wound up overshadowing --

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I'm so used to that. I really am.

QUESTION: Nothing surprises you?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Nothing surprises me. And -- but I was fascinated to read -- somebody sent me Bill Safire's column -- you know how he does that column in The New York Times? -- where he talked about what I had said about I'm not channeling. And so he was writing about that, and then he put in the official translation of the question I was asked. Well, no wonder she reacted the way she did. So I thought, my God, Bill Safire. (Laughter.)

STAFF: That's very funny. But you let us down. I thought you were going to point out that that was the longest Secretary of State trip in a decade. (Laughter.) We had to hear that from our regular historians, not you.

QUESTION: Yeah, I'm sorry.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Was it really? No, was it really?

STAFF: Yes, it was the longest since Albright took a 13-day trip in '99.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Where did Madeleine go?

STAFF: I don't even remember?

QUESTION: All over the place?

STAFF: I can look that up.

QUESTION: I was on vacation in Japan.

STAFF: (Inaudible) would have argued for (inaudible).

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. Well, that's a pretty good place to be on vacation.

QUESTION: Yes, it was great.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good, good. Well, so I don't -- I was going to give this speech on Friday, and obviously it's going to be UNGA, UNGA, UNGA every day for the rest of September, but then we'll start traveling again.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you so much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: You're so welcome.

QUESTION: Appreciate it.

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