Hillary Clinton keeps mum over White House plans during Dublin visit
Published 07/12/2012 | 05:00
HILLARY Clinton's face was wreathed in a wide smile as she gracefully evaded the question with a well-practised verbal pirouette.
The US Secretary of State was at a press conference with the Taoiseach in Government Buildings and had just been hit with a question occupying the minds of quite a few political folk in Washington DC.
What will Hill do next? Ever since she made it clear that she wasn't up for a second term, rumours about her future have been flying about like snuff at a wake.
Would she have a go at moving back into the White House in 2016? Or does she have some other cunning plan up her sleeve?
The travelling pack of American reporters went on immediate red alert.
But Hillary's been playing high-stakes poker for way too long.
She threw back her head and laughed.
"I'm right now too focussed on what I'm doing to complete all the work we have ahead of us before I do step down," she said.
"I'm looking forward to returning to living a life that enjoys a lot of simple pleasures and gives me time with family and friends."
In fairness, she's been operating at a breakneck pace in the public eye for, well, two decades now.
Moreover, this pace has been particularly breakneck since becoming US President Barack Obama's Secretary of State – it was recently announced she had clocked up more air miles than any other holder of that office; in the past four years she has visited 112 countries, travelled 1.5 million kilometres and spent 86 days on her plane.
On Wednesday night she touched down in a familiar stomping ground when she arrived in Dublin to attend the two-day ministerial council of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Her schedule was gruelling. She swept into the OSCE venue in the RDS yesterday just after 9am, smiling and bestowing continental cheek kisses on her host, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.
This was a bit of a big do, with 38 foreign ministers in attendance, including Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, plus sundry ministers from the other 50-plus member or partner countries.
Global interest in the meeting rose sky-high yesterday morning when it was announced that Hillary would hold a bilateral meeting later in the day with Mr Lavrov and UN envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
It was just another engagement on her packed schedule. After a short address to the OSCE, she headed to Aras an Uachtarain to pay a courtesy call on President Higgins, and got lost in the Park on the drab, dank day that was in it.
She's no stranger to the Phoenix Park – on arrival, she wrote in the visitor's book: "It's wonderful to be back and celebrating the strong friendship between our countries and people."
After a wide-ranging discussion with Michael D on issues from global human rights to the peace process in the North, Hillary was back on her skateboard and off to the DCU campus.
This was an engagement close to her heart – she was launching a new Institute for International Conflict Resolution with a keynote speech.
Among the audience were guests including Ireland's US ambassador Michael Collins and ministers Joan Burton and Ruairi Quinn plus businessman Denis O'Brien who is chairman of human rights organisation Front Line Defenders.
Hillary received a standing ovation when she walked on stage at 3pm, and promptly repaid the favour by heaping praise on Ireland.
"Over the years Ireland has made enormous contributions to America's progress," she said.
"People around the world often speak of and believe in the American Dream, but I think it is fair to say that no people have done more to build that dream and make it real than the Irish. The United States, my country, would not be the country it is were it not for this nation and its people."
She's a commanding speaker, and the audience were silent as she spoke of human rights, from countries cracking down on internet freedoms to the rekindling of conflict in Egypt.
"We call on Egypt's leaders to ensure the outcome protects the democratic promise of the revolution for all Egyptians," she said.
She also recalled the time she spent in Belfast in the fledgling days of the peace process, when she had a meeting with women from both sides of the political divide. She said: "One woman said, 'Every time my husband leaves for work I worry that he won't come home at night'.
"And the eyes lit up of another woman across the table, who said, 'Well, I worry the same thing about my son when he goes out at night'."
Hillary then travelled to Government Buildings for a meeting with the Taoiseach before heading for the crucial trilateral meeting on Syria's future.
But first she had a few questions about her husband's – future. A story had emerged that Mr Obama may appoint Bill to replace Dan Rooney as US ambassador to Ireland.
Hillary's poker-face was back in place. "I cannot comment on what President Obama might do," she said.
"I would think my husband would be here many times in the future doing the work he's been doing without having to have the title of ambassador."
There's no doubt both Bill and Hill have a soft spot for this country. Asked if she had "a message of hope" for the natives still reeling after Wednesday's Budget, she had.
"The view from the United States is the resilience, the hard work, the determination of the Irish people, getting up every day and getting the job done, coming at it with a can-do spirit, and an unwavering resolve to meet what lies ahead," she declared.
Beside her, Enda was almost doing cartwheels.