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Clinton embraced despite EU gaffes

March 08, 2009|David Brunnstrom | Brunnstrom writes for Reuters

BRUSSELS — Hillary Rodham Clinton raised eyebrows on her first visit to Europe as secretary of State when she mispronounced her EU counterparts' names and claimed U.S. democracy was older than Europe's.

Clinton has set herself a grueling pace on visits to Egypt, Israel and Belgium soon after touring the Far East, attending dozens of meetings and giving speech after speech, with little time worked into her schedule for sleep.

Fatigue appeared evident on Friday when she answered questions in front of 500 young Europeans at the European Parliament, where she was the highest-ranking U.S. visitor since President Reagan in 1985.

Clinton, a veteran politician, compared the complex European political environment to that of the two-party U.S. system, before adding:

"I have never understood multiparty democracy.

"It is hard enough with two parties to come to any resolution, and I say this very respectfully, because I feel the same way about our own democracy, which has been around a lot longer than European democracy."

The remark provoked much head shaking in the parliament of a bloc that likes to trace its democratic tradition back thousands of years to the days of classical Greece.

One working lunch later with European Union leaders, Clinton raised eyebrows again when she referred to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who stood beside her, as "High Representative Solano."

She also dubbed EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner as "Benito."

Still, Clinton has been well received in Brussels, where the Obama administration has been viewed as a breath of fresh air after the unpopular leadership of George W. Bush. His secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, often drew protests on her travels.

Fellow foreign ministers stood and applauded Clinton's presentation at a meeting with NATO counterparts Thursday.

Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering was effusive in his praise, saying that with the new administration, the United States and Europe once again "share the same values."

"What you said mostly could have been said by a European," he told Clinton after she fielded questions ranging from climate change to energy security to aid to Africa.

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