From NBC's Andrea Mitchell
Hillary Clinton is trying to reinvent the role of Secretary of State, surprising reporters on her plane and a lot of diplomats yesterday by talking plainly, even if it wasn't exactly diplomatic.
Asked today why she had been so blunt about North Korea's ailing leader Kim Jong Il, she said, "I don't think it's a forbidden subject to talk about succession in the Hermit Kingdom. ...To worry about something that is so self-evident is an impediment to clear thinking."
Video: During her trip to Seoul on Thursday, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton sent some unmistakable signals to North Korea. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
It does mark a change from the usual diplomatese. Clinton's response today? "Maybe this is unusual because you're supposed to be so careful you spend hours avoiding the obvious."
She's been getting a rock star reception. Just take a look at what happened in Jakarta when she waded into a poor neighborhood to look at a water sanitization project and was mobbed. She plays to that advantage, telling reporters, "I see our job right now, given what we've inherited, as repairing relations, not only with governments but with people. …President Obama has an extraordinary ability to do that because of the emotion he engenders."
To a lesser degree, she says she can do that also by getting down into the population. That's why in Jakarta she appeared on an Indonesian music show that was a cross between American Idol and The View, a program called "Awesome," charming the hosts when she confessed that her musical tastes were formulated in the 60s -- The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
As a politician, she was completely at ease in ways most diplomats wouldn't have been. That kind of personal connection is a key to her approach, telling us today, "I don't want to oversell this, but it is part of our toolbox for smart power...this power is not confined to ministerial meetings."
Her problem though, she could become the Dear Abby of Secretaries of State. First in Tokyo, then in Seoul, university audiences asked her for advice on women's issues, balancing marriage and career. And in Seoul, one young woman asked, "I have a question related to love. How did you know your husband was and is and has been in love. Was it just feeling?"
Clinton said, "I feel more like an advice columnist than a secretary of state today. How does anyone describe love? …I think if you can describe it you may not be fully experiencing it, because it is such a personal relationship. I'm very lucky because my husband as you know is my best friend."
Inescapably, she is a role model for these women students.
In Beijing today, she says she will focus on the global economy, on climate change, and on a range of security issues like North Korea. Some human rights groups are complaining already that she is downplaying their concerns to play up to the Chinese. That would be pretty strange for the woman who set off an international firestorm in 1995 when she came as First Lady and declared that women's rights are human rights -- a revolutionary concept in Beijing in those days.
Clinton went on to tell us that doesn't mean she won't bring up Taiwan, Tibet and Human Rights, but on those issues, she said, "You pretty much know what they're going to say, because I've had those conversations for a decade with Chinese leaders."
Earlier today, Clinton named another envoy, Stephen Bosworth -- a former Ambassador to South Korea -- as her envoy on the North Korean problem. Asked if she was giving up too much turf to envoys, she said she came into the job having decided that she wanted to deploy some of the best diplomats and envoys that she could find.
"I believe in envoys," Clinton said. "I tried to get the Bush administration to deploy an envoy to Afghanistan back in 2007," saying she called then National Security Advisor Steve Hadley to make her point.
Now she can appoint as many envoys as she wants, and there will be more to come.