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A Team Player Who Stands Apart

In an interview with al-Jazeera in May, Clinton said about Israel: "We want to see a stop to settlement construction, additions, natural growth -- any kind of settlement activity." Some experts have questioned whether the position should have remained private, since it led to such a breach in relations with Israel.

Mitchell, who in public has refused to utter the phrase "natural growth," the Israeli term for the incremental expansion of settlements, defends her comment as "consistent with policy." He said: "One of the reasons she is so effective is because she is so direct. She is able to state in simple terms complicated issues."

Clinton, in the interview, said she was trying to get the negotiations going by setting a bright line in the sand. "It's been against the backdrop of that very strong statement that we've been moving," she said, vowing that "we will end up in a place that no Israeli government has ever gone before."

Jones suggested that she might have jumped the gun. "There are some adjustments in the first few months to your environment," he said. Indeed, when Obama met with Jewish leaders in July and was asked about a perceived imbalance toward Israel, he responded: "We have been trying not to do this through the press, and other than my comment to the prime minister and a couple by Hillary, we have been disciplined," according to the contemporaneous notes of one participant.

Some at State have questioned whether Clinton's proclivity for throwing verbal bombs has undercut her public authority. "When Condi spoke, you knew that was policy," said one senior State Department official, referring to Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice. "When this secretary speaks, you don't really know."

Ironically, the press operation at Clinton's State Department is so constrained that virtually every public statement issued by its spokesmen must be reviewed by James B. Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state. He said that is an effort to ensure the government speaks with a single, carefully vetted voice.

"I'd say she likes plain speaking," Slaughter said. "She is impatient with language that obscures rather than tells you what she means, and she is impatient with symbolism for symbolism's sake."

With her political hat on, Clinton said she feels an urgent need to help explain to Americans -- "somebody who is an unemployed autoworker or a family worried about losing their home or a small-business person struggling with health-care costs" -- why it is important to spend money on curbing maternal mortality or improving girls' education overseas.

"We have got to take a hard look and be very honest about what we do right and what we don't do so well," Clinton said. "I don't want to be sitting here talking to you in a year or two years or how ever long I am around . . . and say we saw these problems, we deplored them, we regretted them, we fulminated about them and we are still living with them."

Clinton said she loves being secretary of state, but conceded, "It is a really hard job . . . a 24-7 job," and "I feel the weight of it pretty significantly." Asked if she would be sitting in the same office for eight years, Clinton shuddered.

"Please! I will be so old," she said with a shake of her head.

Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan contributed to this report.

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