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Young Europeans quiz Clinton

Mark Mardell | 16:29 UK time, Friday, 6 March 2009

The meeting, if not the medium, is the message. No top American politician has bothered to visit the European Parliament since President Reagan more than 20 years ago. Now the most powerful foreign affairs chief in the world, Hillary Clinton, was not only visiting it but holding a "town hall"-style meeting. Hillary Clinton at European Parliament

Beside the banner "The next generation takes the floor" she listened to some rather long questions from young people (under 35, anyway) and answered them.

Questions came from Irish, Welsh, Scots, Moldovan, Spanish, Norwegian and Russians. As she answered the questions on terrorism, the Middle East, gay rights and Europe itself she addressed the C-shaped room almost imperceptibly but continually swivelling around the semi-circle so that she was looking at each section of the audience every few minutes. Everyone got a smile. Hillary Clinton fan in audience

This is the style and the substance. The new administration's message is "we are listening, and we want to be friends".

After the meeting I interviewed Mrs Clinton, but she began by telling me that she was "thrilled" by the Nato dinner because there was such a freewheeling discussion, with so many different views. She argued this amounted to not just a new approach, but a new foreign policy. She suggested what she called George W's "confrontational" approach to Russia had contributed to the way that country had behaved recently. Hillary Clinton and Mark Mardell

As with Russia, so with Iran and Syria. The hand of friendship is being proffered in a very obvious, high-profile way. The interesting question is what happens if the outstretched open palm is smacked away.

As for Europe, she was full of praise in the meeting for the creators of "a miracle" that had led to peace for the longest period since Roman times and which was a model for other countries trying to live together. Asked about the complex nature of European politics, she was diplomatic (click here to read my estimable colleague from the Economist's less diplomatic take on the Parliament). She said that tension was in the nature of the beast when consensus was being built, but democracies had to be careful not to be paralysed by process and "process for the sake of process is dangerous".


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