Obama and Clinton reminisce

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AFP

US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton board Air Force One at the airport in Yangon.

Washington - Once bitter foes, then wary allies, and now firm friends, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are waxing nostalgic about six turbulent years, as she gets ready to swap globe trotting for retirement.

The US secretary of state went step-by-step with her boss on his three-day Asian tour, on their last trip together as he prepares for his second term and she prepares to, perhaps temporarily, retreat from the public eye.

When Obama arrived in Yangon on Monday for a historic first visit to Myanmar by a sitting US president, Clinton appeared by his side at the door of Air Force One and they descended the steps together.

Six hours later, the pair retraced their steps, turning to wave goodbye - both to Myanmar, and symbolically, to their unlikely double act.

Aides said Obama's decision to treat the trip as a joint farewell tour was a sign of his growing affection for Clinton, with whom he clashed in an acrimonious Democratic primary campaign before the 2008 election.

He also went out of his way to share credit for a diplomatic triumph, seeking out Clinton in the crowd as he stood with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her lakeside home in Yangon.

“What the president expresses and what he believes is not only has she done a great job as secretary of state, they have really come to become not just partners but close friends,” said senior Obama aide, Ben Rhodes.

“It is a friendship that he values very much and that he will want to continue going forward.”

Rhodes said that on the flight from Yangon to Cambodia Monday, Clinton and Obama spent the whole time together inside his office on the presidential plane, “just reminiscing about the last four years”.

“As the president said, it wasn't just the last four years - they have been through an awful lot together over the last five or six years.”

Clinton seems to be thriving on the praise for her tenure at the State Department, which latterly has come under attack for its handling of the raid by extremists on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11.

Asked by a reporter on Tuesday how her final trip at Obama's side had been, she said: “It's been great. It's been bittersweet, nostalgic, all the things you would expect.”

Obama raised serious doubts among his team when shortly after his election he selected Clinton as his top diplomat, as bad blood simmered between the two political camps following their duel for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But buying into his “Team of Rivals” concept, Clinton used the clout she built up in eight years as first lady, and then in the US Senate, to become an itinerant and politically savvy secretary of state.

Though critics question whether she can point to any major achievements as Obama keeps a tight rein on the framing and implementation of foreign policy, there was no question Clinton created a stir and headlines wherever she went.

The rapprochement between Clinton and Obama is mirrored by the growing relationship between the current and former presidents.

Bill Clinton delivered a widely praised speech at the Democratic National Convention in September, making the case for Obama better than the incumbent had himself.

Then, Clinton campaigned feverishly for Obama in the dying weeks of his duel with Republican Mitt Romney for the White House, making himself hoarse and declaring: “I have given my voice in the service of my president.”

Their embrace was all the more remarkable given the fury with which Clinton had reacted when Obama presumed to usurp a family restoration at the White House by ending his wife's dream of becoming the first woman president.

Recent public displays of affection and respect between Obama and the Clintons have done nothing to still speculation as to their motives.

Hillary Clinton, who has now added diplomatic credentials to the 18 million votes she piled up in the Democratic primary, is already the prohibitive favourite for the party nomination in 2016.

She says she just wants to rest and to write and has no intention of mounting another White House run.

Some associates wonder whether Clinton, now 65, has the stomach for the gruelling, months-long process of running a presidential campaign.

But such is the dominance of the Clintons over the US political scene, even 12 years after they left the White House, few people in Washington take her denials at face value.

Obama's willingness to share the spotlight during his Asian tour suggested too that the president is increasingly comfortable with the idea of his former rival becoming his successor in the White House.

First though, Obama has one more mission for Clinton: he dispatched her from his side in Cambodia on Tuesday for Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt, in an effort to stem the escalating Gaza crisis. - AFP


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