Clinton says retirement not the right word

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States (US) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that she was looking forward to stepping off "the very fast track" for a while, but wouldn't necessarily call it retirement.

Appearing at her first public engagement before the cameras after being taken ill more than a month ago, Mrs Clinton said she was "thrilled to be back". "I have to say, I really missed you all. I wouldn't say that under normal circumstances," she said.

She was taking part in a retirement ceremony for US ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, on only her third day back at work in the State Department since she caught a stomach virus, which then led to a concussion and blood clot.

But when it came to her own plans as she prepares to step down in several weeks and hand over the baton, most likely to Senator John Kerry, Mrs Clinton was a little more coy when asked if she was heading towards retirement.

"I don't know if that is a word I would use, but (I'm) certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while," she said.

Right now Mrs Clinton said she was focused on preparing to hand over to Kerry, whose nomination by President Barack Obama still has to be confirmed by the Senate.

"Obviously, it's somewhat bittersweet because I have had the most extraordinary experience and I've worked with an amazing team of people," Mrs Clinton said.

"But I am very much looking forward to doing everything we can these last few weeks to resolve and finish up wherever possible and then to have a very smooth seamless transition to Senator Kerry to continue the work."

Mrs Clinton is stepping down after four years in office, during which she has been largely credited with helping to restore America's image abroad.

The former first lady and New York senator has said she is exhausted and wants to rest, before deciding what to do next.

But despite repeated denials, many people believe she could run again for the White House in the 2016 elections.

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