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Clinton:”My husband is not secretary of state, I am”

2United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a press conference in Luanda, August 9, 2009.

Clinton:”My husband is not secretary of state, I am”

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Usually calm in public, top U.S. diplomat Hillary Clinton snapped at a Congolese student on Monday when asked about her husband’s views on a foreign policy issue, saying: “My husband is not secretary of state, I am.”

“You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?,” she replied angrily when a university student in Kinshasa asked what former President Bill Clinton thought about a deal between China and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion, I am not going to be channeling my husband,” she added, without commenting further on the infrastructure-to-minerals deal that has raised some IMF concerns.

The former U.S. president stole the diplomatic spotlight from his wife last week. On the day she set off on an 11-day trip to Africa, Bill Clinton was on a secret mission to North Korea to secure the release of two U.S. journalists.

Clinton said afterward she was relieved the mission had been successful but made clear the former president’s Pyongyang mission was purely humanitarian and not linked to the work she is doing to revive stalled nuclear talks.

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Obama vows to pass U.S. healthcare reform

4U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the economy at the Monaco RV vehicle maker in Wakarusa, Indiana, August 5, 2009.

Obama vows to pass U.S. healthcare reform

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Despite polls showing growing public doubts about his healthcare overhaul, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed on Wednesday to get a reform bill through Congress this year even without Republicans on board.

“I promise you, we will pass reform by the end of this year because the American people need it,” Obama said in Wakarusa, Indiana, where he traveled to tout his economic initiatives. “We’re going to have to make it happen.”

Obama’s drive for healthcare reform, his top legislative priority, has been attacked on all sides for its $1 trillion cost and scope. Democrats have feuded over how to pay for it, and Obama’s popularity has slipped as the debate dragged on.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday found 52 percent of voters disapprove of Obama’s handling of healthcare while 39 percent approve. That was a shift from 46 percent approval against 42 percent disapproval in a July 1 survey.

Concerns about spending too much and adding to the deficit appeared to fuel the change, with 72 percent saying they do not believe Obama can overhaul healthcare without expanding the deficit.

No Republicans have backed the healthcare proposals under consideration in Congress, and months of Senate Finance Committee negotiations with three Republican senators have not produced a deal. Obama said time was about up.

“I think at some point, sometime in September, we’re just going to have to make an assessment,” Obama told MSNBC after his appearance in Wakarusa, saying his priority was a plan that reined in healthcare costs, improved care and regulated insurance companies.

Obama wants to expand insurance coverage to most of the 46 million uninsured Americans and make it harder for insurance companies to prohibit coverage of those with pre-existing conditions.

“I would prefer Republicans working with us on that because I think it’s in the interest of everybody. That shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.

‘A DELAY GAME’

Democratic Senator John Rockefeller told reporters he suspects the three Republicans negotiating with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus — Charles Grassley, Mike Enzi and Olympia Snowe — ultimately will reject a Democratic healthcare reform plan.

“My own personal view is that those three Republicans won’t be there to vote for it, not in committee when it comes right down to it,” he said. “So this will evolve into three or four months of a delay game, which is exactly what the Republicans want.”

The Senate adjourns at the end of the week for a monthlong summer recess, joining the House of Representatives, which adjourned last week. Three House committees and one Senate committee have passed versions of the healthcare bill, while Senate Finance is still at work.

Baucus said other Democrats believed the party’s negotiators on Senate Finance should “keep working, be bipartisan, but sometime in September we are going to have to make a decision.”

Advocates on both sides are preparing for a fierce public relations battle this month. Baucus and Senator Chris Dodd of the Health and Education Committee, the other panel to pass a healthcare bill, held a briefing for Democratic senators on Wednesday to get them acquainted with the proposals.

Obama sent a message to his grassroots supporters asking them to get involved during the August break, contacting their representatives and taking at least one action in support of healthcare reform.

“The cost of inaction is simply too much for the people of this nation to bear,” he said in the message.

The six Finance Committee members trying to reach a bipartisan deal — three Democrats and three Republicans — met again on Wednesday and discussed a proposal for an independent Medicare Commission to oversee the healthcare program for the elderly.

They were set to meet with Obama at the White House on Thursday to discuss the status of talks, a congressional aide said.

Baucus told reporters the panel would make judgments about Medicare payments while preserving an “appropriate” level of congressional involvement in setting reimbursement rates.

“We’re trying to strike the right balance and we did. I think we came up with a pretty good resolution,” he said.

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Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

3U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a news conference in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, August 5, 2009.

Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

NAIROBI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Somalia’s president on Thursday, showing U.S. support for a fragile government which is battling against militants including al Shabaab insurgents.

Australian police said this week they had uncovered a plot to attack an army base in Sydney by men with alleged links to al Shabaab which Washington accuses of being al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.

Clinton said she would discuss with President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed how the world could help stabilise the Horn of Africa country, which Western security agencies say is a haven for militants plotting attacks in the region and beyond.

“We know we’re facing a very difficult conflict, and we also know that the presence of al Shabaab and terrorist elements within Somalia poses a threat,” said Clinton, ahead of the meeting, on the sidelines of a U.S.-African trade conference.

“It poses a threat to Kenya, poses a threat to the stability of Africa and beyond. So this is an area where we’re going to work even more closely together,” she added.

The United States has offered military aid to Somalia’s government, including more than 40 tonnes of weapons and ammunition in recent months, as it battles al Shabaab.

At the meeting, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Clinton is expected to promise more financial aid, including additional shipments of weapons, although these had been scheduled a while ago, a senior U.S. official travelling with Clinton said.

Washington has also offered training for security forces and logistical help.

NO U.S. TROOPS

The Obama administration has ruled out sending U.S. forces to help fight against Islamist militants. The last U.S. involvement in Somalia — during Clinton’s husband Bill Clinton’s presidency — ended in shambles.

In a battle that inspired the film “Black Hawk Down”, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu in October 1993, marking the beginning of the eventual withdrawal of a U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force from Somalia.

There is still debate within the Obama administration over how to handle the crisis and whether putting full U.S. support behind Ahmed is wise.

Ahmed was elected in January under a U.N.-brokered process that was Somalia’s 15th attempt to set up a central government since 1991.

Africa expert Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington thinktank, said while Ahmed’s government was seen as imperfect, he was also viewed by many as the only option available.

“I am not sure what she is going to get out of this meeting,” said Cooke of Clinton’s meeting, which is also expected to tackle a rise in piracy off Somalia’s coast.

The Horn of Africa’s coastal waters — vital shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe — have become a focus of pirates who have made off with countless millions of dollars in ransom from hijacking vessels, including U.S.-flagged ships.

Pirates are expected to step up attacks on ships off Somalia’s coast in the coming months as the end of the monsoon season brings better weather.

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