Clinton airs insider's take on world leaders

Clinton airs insider's take on world leaders
A picture taken on May 14, 2014 shows former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waiting to speak at the World Bank in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON - Russia's Vladimir Putin remains "fixated" on reviving the Soviet empire, China's Hu Jintao was "aloof" and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "bellicose peacock", Hillary Clinton dishes about key world leaders in her new book.

The former secretary of state presides Tuesday over the closely-managed rollout of her new memoir, "Hard Choices," which many observers interpret as an unofficial kickoff of her prospective 2016 presidential campaign.

After visiting 112 countries in her four years as top diplomat, Clinton sheds light on her dealings with power players at the heart of some of the world's intractable problems - and how her ties with them often set the tone in negotiations.

"The personal element matters more in international affairs than many would expect, for good or ill," she writes.

Among her most difficult relationships as America's top diplomat was with Putin, with whom she had rocky ties after the failed US-Russia "reset" at the outset of the Obama presidency.

"He's always testing you, always pushing the boundaries," she writes of Russia's president, whom she described as an autocratic leader with an "appetite for more power, territory and influence." In criticising the Kremlin's takeover of Crimea this year and its aggression in eastern Ukraine, Clinton warned such moves could backfire against a country already saddled with a sputtering economy.

"Think also of the long-term strategic interests Russia could pursue if Putin weren't fixated on reclaiming the Soviet empire and crushing domestic dissent," she writes.

China's President Hu Jintao, meanwhile, was less directly combative and more "scripted" and "polite," Clinton writes in her 635-page tome.

With the United States and China the world's two largest economies, the "predictability (and) formality" from leaders like Hu made sense to Clinton. But she stressed that Hu lacked the "personal authority" of predecessors like Deng Xiaoping.

"Hu seemed to me more like an aloof chairman of the board than a hands-on CEO," she explained, citing her trips to Beijing where she often held more fruitful meetings with lower level dignitaries.

"How in control he really was of the entire sprawling Communist Party apparatus was an open question.

A 'gentleman,' a 'bellicose peacock'

She reserved poignant criticism for Iran's Ahmadinejad, whom she described as "a Holocaust denier and provocateur who... insulted the West at every turn." The Iranian leader showed himself to be a "bellicose peacock strutting on the world stage," and unwilling to thaw the chilled relations with Washington enough to engage in meaningful negotiations over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme - a stubbornness which contributed to Washington slapping sanctions on the Islamic republic.

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