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Clinton warns of 'uncharted territory' in wake of Egypt unrest

From Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
  • The U.S. faces a range of challenges, Clinton says
  • U.S. diplomats from around the world are meeting in Washington

Washington (CNN) -- In the midst of mass uprisings and historic change in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a gathering of U.S. diplomats Wednesday that "we are all in uncharted territory."

Pointing to a range of challenges, from congressional pressure to cut the State Department budget and foreign aid, to WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Clinton said "we have a tough road ahead."

"As we see, with what's going on today, recent events in Egypt and certainly in that broader region, (they) remind us all of how crucial it is to have top-notch leadership on the ground. And how quickly that ground can shift under our feet," she said.

"From the theft of confidential cables to 21st century protest movements, to development breakthroughs that have the potential to change millions of lives, we are all in uncharted territory."

Clinton called for the unprecedented "Global Chiefs of Mission" meeting several months ago, bringing together U.S. ambassadors from around the world. The meeting was scheduled for early February, she joked, because "we figured it would be quiet."

Even as news reports Wednesday showed protesters clashing on the streets of Cairo, Egypt, Clinton noted that the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, was not able to attend the State Department meeting.

Turning serious at the end of her remarks, Clinton added: "There are too many forces at work, some of which we are only beginning to understand. Too many cross currents and complexities."