WASHINGTON // The US president, Barack Obama, lauded Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as one of his closest advisers and said their shared vision for America's role in the world persuaded his one-time rival - and potential successor - to be his top diplomat while he dealt with the shattered economy at home.
During a joint interview that aired on Sunday, Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton chuckled as they described their partnership and stoked speculation that Mr Obama may prefer Mrs Clinton to succeed him in the White House after the 2016 elections. Mrs Clinton is leaving Mr Obama's cabinet soon, and speculation about the former first lady and US senator has only grown more intense after a heated appearance last week on Capitol Hill in which she was questioned by legislators about the September 11 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya.
Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton batted away questions about future campaigns, but the joint interview - the president's first with anyone other than the first lady, Michelle Obama - was only likely to increase the fascination with Mrs Clinton's future.
"The president and I care deeply about what's going to happen for our country in the future," Mrs Clinton said. "And I don't think, you know, either he or I can make predictions about what's going to happen tomorrow or the next year."
Mr Obama, who suggested the joint interview as Mrs Clinton prepared her exit from the State Department, lavished praise on his rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He called her a friend and an extraordinary talent, and praised "her discipline, her stamina, her thoughtfulness, her ability to project".
It teetered on an endorsement of a 2016 presidential bid that is still an open question. Mrs Clinton advisers say she has not made a decision about a run, while Democratic officials suggest Mrs Clinton would be an early favourite if she decided to mount another campaign.
Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton laughed when asked about the political future.
"You guys in the press are incorrigible," Mr Obama said when pressed on another Mrs Clinton presidency. "I was literally inaugurated four days ago. And you're talking about elections four years from now."
The possibility of a presidential campaign for the vice president, Joe Biden, did not come up during the interview, taped on Friday at the White House.
Mr Obama described why he insisted Mrs Clinton become his secretary of state.
"She also was already a world figure," Mr Obama said. "To have somebody who could serve as that effective ambassador in her own right without having to earn her stripes, so to speak, on the international stage, I thought, would be hugely important."
It was a job she initially refused. But Mr Obama kept pushing, Mrs Clinton said.
"The one thing he did mention was he basically said: 'You know, we've got this major economic crisis that may push us into a depression. I'm not going to be able to do a lot to satisfy the built-up expectations for our role around the world. So you're going to have to get out there and, you know, really represent us while I deal with, you know, the economic catastrophe I inherited."
It is a job she embraced during the past four years. She arrived on the job with a global brand she quickly lent to promoting US interests. In return, the public rewarded her with high approval ratings that could come in handy if she runs in 2016.
But her tenure has had its blemishes. For example, the United States did not directly intervene in the civil war in Syria, where the United Nations says more than 60,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million people have been internally displaced since the start of the conflict in March 2011.
"There are transitions and transformations taking place all around the world. We are not going to be able to control every aspect of every transition and transformation," Mr Obama said, saying his jobs are to protect the United States and engage where the US can make a difference.
In a separate interview with The New Republic, also released on Sunday, Mr Obama said: "As I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations."