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Clinton Takes Final World Trek With Virtual Townhall


It's official - Democratic Senator John Kerry will be the next secretary of State. The Senate voted 94-3 in favor of his confirmation today. Kerry will replace Hillary Clinton, who had been hoping to spend her final days at the State Department on the road, but recent health scares have grounded her. So on this, her last week, Secretary Clinton decided to go around the world virtually. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on a global town hall where Clinton spoke with students and journalists over a video hookup.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Clinton likes these town halls, saying it gives her a better sense of what issues are on people's minds. Today, she heard that Latin Americans still feel ignored; some in Europe are worried that U.S. relations with Russia are in the tank; and there's a lot of concern about extremism spreading across North Africa. A questioner in Nigeria raised the common critique that the Obama administration has led from behind in Libya and now in Mali.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: We believe that, of course, the United States remains the paramount military and economic power in the world. But the future we want to see are more nations taking responsibility and playing a role. And I think that is visionary leadership.

KELEMEN: So she says the U.S. is trying to encourage African countries to step up and deal with issues in their region, as they did in Somalia.

Clinton is leaving with a lot of unfinished business. The Obama administration failed to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians, an early priority. Clinton says her successor, John Kerry, might have some opportunities in the wake of elections in Israel.

CLINTON: I actually think that the selection opens doors not nails them shut.

KELEMEN: The administration's efforts to reach out to Iran have also failed so far. The host of the town hall, Leigh Sales, of the Australian Broadcasting Company, read out one question from an Iranian about that.

LEIGH SALES: My only question is, if you have issues with the government of Iran, why destroy the people with the current sanctions in place? It's very difficult to find medicine in Iran. Where is your sense of humanity?

CLINTON: Well, first, let me say on the medicine and on food and other necessities, there are no sanctions.

KELEMEN: Clinton calls this a dilemma for the administration. She says Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon would be incredibly dangerous, so her message to Iranians is do something about this in the upcoming elections.

CLINTON: Iranian people are educated, intelligent, historically significant; they deserve to have a government that integrates them into the world, not isolates them from the world. So we hope that the Iranian people will speak out and make known their views to their own government.

KELEMEN: As she reflected on her time as America's top diplomat, Clinton said there are many crises the U.S. can't control, and there are places where there are simply no easy answers - look at Syria and Congo.

SAHIR SAWAH: My name is Sahir Sawah(ph). I'm from Dubai but a British Pakistani. My biggest question to you was, firstly, are you planning on writing your memoirs already? And if you are, following in the footsteps of Madeleine Albright in hers, where she said that her lasting regret was what happened in Rwanda, what would you say was your lasting regret?

CLINTON: Well, certainly the loss of American lives in Benghazi was something that I deeply regret.

KELEMEN: She also told a Japanese questioner that she had hoped North Korea's new leader would take a different course. But instead, she says, Pyongyang continues to take provocative steps and the U.S. is on its same course piling on more sanctions.

While she talked about world politics, Clinton carefully dodged questions about her political future. Indian television journalist Barkha Dutt tried a different approach.

BARKHA DUTT: I know despite all your denials, all of us are waiting to see you back in political action in 2016...


DUTT: ...as possibly the United States' first woman president. So, I'm not saying that as a question, I'm just observing that we think that might happen.


KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton didn't bite but later said her first plans are to catch up on 20 years of sleep deprivation.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.