Struggling to Control the Message, Hillary Clinton Completes Tough Trip Abroad

It has been a tough trip abroad for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arguably her most challenging since becoming America's top diplomat.

Unlike previous trips where her star power outshined her critics, Clinton was confronted time and again in the past week with intense skepticism about U.S. policy during stops in Pakistan and the Arab world, and some of her remarks did more to ruffle feathers than iron out concerns.

VIDEO: Clinton Says Pakistan Helping Al Qaeda

During a three-day visit to Pakistan, Clinton sought to expand U.S. cooperation there beyond the controversial military and counterterrorism missions. She reached out to students and prominent journalists in town hall-style meetings and interviews where she announced hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. assistance for humanitarian assistance, education, and energy projects.

The meetings were similar to those Clinton has held on every trip abroad, from India to Moscow, where her popularity ensured at least cordial interactions. In Pakistan, however, her celebrity proved no match for the skepticism of U.S. intentions among the population there.

Clinton was bombarded at every turn with questions, mostly pointed though polite and many grounded in fact, about the use of U.S. drone aircraft to attack top terror targets inside Pakistan, U.S. support for the government of former President Pervez Musharraf and strings attached to U.S. aid.

For the most part, Clinton parried each query deftly and tried to explain U.S. policy, separating fact from rumor. She did, however, appear exasperated at times. At a town hall meeting with students in Lahore, Clinton tried to convince them of the need to pursue terror targets in remote parts of the country.

"I mean, if you want to see your territory shrink, that's your choice," she said at one point. "But I don't think that's the right choice."

Later the same day, Clinton took off the diplomatic gloves and said bluntly what had been whispered by U.S. officials for years; that Pakistan had not made the necessary effort to go after top al Qaeda leadership believed to be hiding within its borders.

Secretary of State in Hot Water

"I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to," Clinton told a group of prominent newspaper editors. "And maybe that's the case. Maybe they're not getable. I don't know."

Asked Wednesday about the reception she received in Pakistan, Clinton told NPR in an interview: "They had this sort of pent-up frustration with the United States. And, as you know and as you saw, I listened and and tried to convey understanding of all of their questions about our policy, going back years.

"The reaction that I got in Pakistan was overwhelmingly positive and I've been reading a lot of the blogging and the reaction on the press in part because they're not used to anyone from the United States government coming and opening herself to their concerns. Theyre just used to having somebody say, 'Take it or leave it, with us or against us, go forward or not.' And, so, I think we're building a stronger base for our relationship," she added.

At her next stops in the Middle East, Clinton again found herself in hot water.

She waded into the delicate business of brokering Middle East peace where her comments with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked more unease among Arab countries at a time when Clinton is trying to bring the two sides together for peace talks.

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