WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday rejected suggestions she had been sidelined by President Barack Obama, her rival for last year’s Democratic presidential nomination.
With media reports swirling that Clinton’s influence has been usurped by the National Security Council, the top U.S. diplomat insisted she played an important role in crafting the foreign policy agenda.
“I really stay focused on the work that I do. I broke my elbow, not my larynx. I have been deeply involved in the shaping and implementation of our foreign policy,” she told reporters.
“I don’t really pay a lot of attention to what is said,” Clinton said of several commentaries speculating she was being sidelined.
Since she slipped and broke her elbow last month, Clinton has been forced out of the limelight, canceling two foreign trips and undergoing intense physical therapy.
On Wednesday, Clinton gave what the State Department billed as a major foreign policy speech at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, but she broke no new ground.
Several media commentators have noticed Clinton’s less public profile, with “The Daily Beast’s” Tina Brown describing the former New York senator as the “invisible woman at State.”
“It’s time for Barack Obama to let Clinton take off her burqa,” Brown wrote. Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland said Obama’s top advisers — not Clinton — were crafting his foreign policy.
Much of the traditional shuttle diplomacy is being handled by a phalanx of special envoys, including veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke who leads Afghanistan-Pakistan efforts as well as Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
Vice President Joe Biden, whom Clinton sees most Tuesdays for breakfast, also has taken the lead in such areas as Iraq policy.
Foreign policy expert Ned Walker, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt, said it was too soon to judge whether Clinton was being excluded from major foreign policy decisions.
Walker said there was a natural rivalry between the State Department and the National Security Council particularly in the early months of a new presidency.
“Their physical proximity to the president naturally gives the NSC a boost,” said Walker. “It is way too early to count her out.”
For its part, the White House rejects suggestions that Clinton is not a major player or that Obama is not listening to the one-time frontrunner he beat in the Democratic Party’s presidential race last year.
“They enjoy a very close relationship. I think the Secretary of State is somebody who the president relies on greatly,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
“The notion that there’s some rift or disagreement is nothing more than silly Washington games,” he added.
Clinton leaves for a weeklong trip to India and Thailand on Thursday and she listed other events in the coming weeks, including meetings in Washington with top Chinese officials and a planned visit to Africa in early August.
“I think I will just do the work and make the contribution,” she said. “I feel very honored and positive about my working relationship with the White House and in my personal relationship with President Obama.”
Editing by Doina Chiacu