Talk rife that Obama is eyeing Clinton as top envoy

Speculation has flared over reports that the US president-elect is weighing former Democratic primary rival Hillary Clinton to be a heavy-hitting secretary of state. Obama is also to meet former Republican rival John McCain on Monday.


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The US capital on Saturday was abuzz with speculation that US president-elect Barack Obama is weighing former Democratic primary rival Hillary Clinton to be a heavy-hitting secretary of state.

Sources close to Clinton and Obama did not deny reports that the New York senator and former first lady met Obama in Chicago on Thursday, and was in the frame to become the top US diplomat and fourth in line to the presidency.

The reports came as Obama's team announced that the president-elect, who will take office on January 20 during an intense economic crisis and with two foreign wars raging, would meet former Republican rival John McCain on Monday.

The Clinton reports spurred talk that Obama would assemble a "team of rivals" uniting his former political foes, like that framed after the 1860 election by his hero Abraham Lincoln.

Aides to Obama and Clinton refused all comment on the rampant speculation, but equally did not deny the reports.

"I'm not going to speculate or address anything about the president-elect's incoming administration. I'm going to respect his process," Clinton said in a speech to the New York Public Transit Association.

Democratic strategist James Carville, who managed the successful 1992 run for the presidency by Hillary Clinton's husband Bill Clinton, told CNN he believed that talks with Obama were "pretty far advanced."

"She knew she was not going there (to Chicago) to have tea with the president-elect," said Carville, who remains close to both Clintons.

But the ABC network, quoting a source who knows about the transition process, described the talks between the two in Chicago on Thursday "as not a hard offer. Obama is more cautious than that."

Obama told Clinton that he knew how much she "cared about health care but said there are other challenges" and he wanted to reach out to her about secretary of state, ABC said.

Meanwhile, in their first post-election interview, the Obamas described to CBS "60 Minutes" the moment when they realized Barack Obama had won the election.

"I remember, we were watching the returns and, on one of the stations, Barack's picture came up and it said, 'President-Elect Barack Obama,'" Michelle Obama said, in a excerpt released ahead of the full interview to be shown on Sunday.

"And I looked at him and said,'You are the 44th president of the United States of America. Wow. What a country we live in.'"

Obama spent much of Friday closeted in his transition headquarters in Chicago in meetings about his future administration, fleshing out priorities following his historic November 4 victory.

With the Obama administration inheriting two wars and the pressing need to restore America's damaged global reputation, the post of secretary of state will be key.

Clinton, 61, has extensive foreign policy experience, having travelled widely when her husband was president from 1993 to 2001, and from her time in the Senate, where she serves on the Armed Services Committee.

After Obama narrowly beat Clinton in the bruising Democratic primaries this year, her legions of loyal supporters were disappointed when she was not approached to be his running mate.

But Clinton campaigned feverishly for her former rival in the final days of the campaign, doing more than 50 rallies.

Obama is also due to meet Monday in Chicago with McCain.

"It's well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government, and will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality," a transition statement said Friday.

An impressive array of former Clinton-era diplomats and officials have already been appointed to oversee the transition teams that are burrowing into the sprawling US bureaucracy.

According to the Washington Post, Clinton's name emerged because the Obama camp "is not overly happy with the usual suspects" mentioned for secretary of state.

Those include Senator John Kerry, a former presidential candidate, former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and moderate Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.

Speculation has also swirled around the post of defense secretary, with rumors Robert Gates might be asked to stay on.

Meanwhile, Valerie Jarrett, a real estate lawyer who has worked for a long time for the Chicago city government, said in an interview that she had been hired by Obama for a senior White House adviser.

Jarrett told The New York Times that she will be responsible for White House's relations with state and local officials and supervise the Office of Public Liaison.

About 20 years ago, Jarrett, who at that time worked for the Chicago city government, hired Michelle Obama, Barack Obama's wife, for a job at Chicago’s City Hall, The Times said.

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