Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke Friday at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke Friday at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is winding up a tour of Asia that has revealed much about how she intends to operate as America's top diplomat.
On a stop in the South Korean capital of Seoul, Clinton did not shy away from peering toward North Korea, where reclusive leader Kim Jong Il is said to be in poor health.
Clinton said the political uncertainly in North Korea is making it harder to get disarmament talks with the North back on track.
And she said she does not believe that candid comments about the possibility of a power struggle are a break with diplomatic protocol. She said it is stating the obvious.
"I don't think that it is a forbidden subject to talk about succession in the Hermit Kingdom," Clinton said. "In fact, it seems to me that it has to be factored into any policy review that one is undertaking."
She says the U.S. and its partners will still have to deal with the current government in Pyongyang, but she says everyone has to be thinking about what comes next.
The man she has tapped to do that for the Obama administration is Steven Bosworth, the dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Bosworth is a former ambassador to Seoul. Now he's special representative on North Korea. Clinton said she's a real believer in using envoys.
"To me, this is how I like to operate," she said. "I think it enhances my ability to actually be effective globally. I don't think that one person in this world — given the complexity and intensity — could possibly handle all these portfolios without doing injustice to them."
Former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has the Afghanistan/Pakistan portfolio. Former Sen. George Mitchell is the envoy to the Middle East. And Clinton has her climate change envoy, Todd Stern, traveling with her on the Asia tour.
Where does that leave the secretary of state? Clinton says this is a work in progress.
"I don't think there is any way to say 'this is how it is going to work,' " she said. "It is more like jazz. You've got to improvise. You've got to have people who are great individuals and ensemble players."
Clinton's forte, though she says she doesn't want to overplay it, is her celebrity. And she says it is her role to reintroduce America to the world.
Her personal diplomacy was on display throughout this swing through Asia, whether it was strolling through a poor neighborhood in Jakarta or taking part in a town hall meeting like one at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, the largest women's university in the world.
The 3,000 people in the auditorium jumped out of their seats to applaud Clinton, who told them that promoting women's rights will be a central mission for her as secretary of state.
"I view this not only as a moral issue but also as a security issue," she said. "I think it is imperative that nations like ours stand up for the rights of women. It is not ancillary to our progress, it is central."
It was a very personal town hall, covering issues that included her childhood dreams to be an astronaut, her relationship with her daughter, Chelsea, balancing work and family — and her love life.
One student asked her how she knew her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was and is her love.
"You know I feel more like an advice columnist than a secretary of state today," Clinton said, laughing.
She went on to describe Bill Clinton as her best friend, saying they have an endless conversation and never get bored.
It was vintage Hillary Clinton — working the crowds and still campaigning in a way — only this time, campaigning to improve America's image.
She will meet with women and civil-society groups on a final stop in China as well, though she made clear she is not planning to let disagreements over human rights get in the way of her broader agenda on climate change, the economy and security.