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Clinton returns to applause and a helmet

09:51 Tue Jan 8 2013
AAP

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has received a standing ovation from her staff and been given an American football helmet to protect her in rough-and-tumble Washington as she returned to work after a period of illness.

A month to the day since she was last seen in public when she flew back from a trip to Europe on December 7, Clinton chaired her regular weekly Monday meeting with her closest staff and advisers.

"It is a great day here in the department ... Secretary Clinton is back to work," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding that the 75 people present at the meeting had given her a standing ovation.

Clinton, who suffered a blood clot to her head after a fall in December was "looking terrific", Nuland said. "She is in the pink, literally. She's wearing a brilliant pink jacket today."

As a joke, the staff presented her with a white football helmet, with "lots of good padding" bearing the State Department seals, and a blue football jersey bearing the words "Clinton" and "112", to signify the number of countries she has visited during her four-year tenure, Nuland said.

Deputy Secretary Tom Nides presented the gift in a big box, handing it over with a warning about life in Washington being "a contact sport", she added.

Clinton had first succumbed to a virulent stomach virus, but then became dehydrated and fell, suffering a concussion. Doctors say the blood clot found later in a vein behind her right ear most likely resulted from the fall.

But now the 65-year-old top US diplomat, who was hospitalised for three days over the New Year, was keen to "get right back to business", Nuland added.

There is still some outstanding business for Clinton to finish before she steps down as secretary of state, with veteran senator John Kerry already tapped to replace her.

Notably, US lawmakers are expecting her to testify on the killings of four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, in the September 11 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Nuland stressed that Clinton will appear before lawmakers to discuss the findings of an internal review which faulted the State Department for grossly inadequate security, and that she would do so before stepping down.

"Let me just say that she will testify. She will testify while she is still sitting secretary of state," Nuland said.

That would mean Clinton will testify before Kerry is confirmed by the Senate as the next secretary of state. But with the Senate in recess until inauguration day on January 21, it could mean she will stay on a few days afterwards.