Hillary Clinton on Friday appeared at a forum sponsored by one of the world’s wealthiest men, where she voiced optimism about global trends but acknowledged deep concerns about Europe’s future, Russian expansionism and the “aggressive, hostile form of jihadism” arising in the Middle East.
It was unknown whether Clinton, a potential Democratic presidential candidate, was paid for her appearance at the all-day forum sponsored by the Carlos Slim Foundation, an organization named for the Mexican tycoon whose financial empire includes investments in a cellular phone provider that receives funding from the U.S. government. Slim endowed the foundation with a gift of $3.5 billion. Other speakers included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Hollywood star Antonio Banderas.
“I am hopeful,” Clinton told students attending the forum. “The world is healthier, better educated, more prosperous than it has been in the past.”
She hailed Mexico for having “one of the brightest, smartest futures of any country in the world,” noted the rise of a global middle class and cited how sub-Saharan Africa has tallied some of the fastest economic growth rates in the world.
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“The one exception I worry about is what’s happening in Europe,” Clinton said, noting that it suffered badly during “the bloodiest century in the history of humankind.”
“I do worry about President (Vladimir) Putin’s view that Russia should dominate its borders, and intimidate people beyond its borders, using gas and oil as a weapon even where we’re seeing now with Ukraine military force,” said Clinton, who logged a million miles of travels visiting 140 countries as secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term.
“It’s very important that Europe remain whole, stable and at peace, and that Russia be persuaded, or somehow convinced, even coerced, into looking toward the future and not the past,” she said.
As she has for months, Clinton demurred on the question of her own presidential ambitions. But she did cite her “unique vantage point and set of experiences” as first lady, a former U.S. senator and a former secretary of state “to see what makes the United States operate well.”
Clinton said she’d make a decision “probably after the first of the year.”
Clinton later met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade.
Both Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, hold a long friendship with Slim, the son of a Lebanese immigrant to Mexico who has built a telecom empire into a fortune of some $82 billion, which has him seesawing with Microsoft founder Bill Gates for title of the world’s richest man.
As a foreigner, Slim would be prohibited from donating to a possible Clinton presidential bid, but his friendship with the Clintons has benefited both.
Slim was given a Global Citizen Award in 2012 by the Clinton Global Initiative, the New York-based part of the Clinton Foundation that convenes global leaders to annual events designed to address pressing global problems.
“If Hillary Clinton gets to the presidency, he’ll have a friendly ear at the White House. They’ll pick up the phone,” said Eduardo Garcia, a publisher in Mexico City who is a longtime Slim watcher.
Slim’s telecom company, America Movil, has worldwide interests, heavily weighted toward Latin America. In the United States, it has a controlling stake in TracFone Wireless, a company that receives government subsidies and that has faced conflicts with state regulators.
TracFone operates the largest prepaid wireless service in the United States, selling cellular phones under its own brand and other brands through retailers such as Wal-Mart and Radio Shack. Customers must buy an inexpensive mobile phone, then purchase minutes to use it.
Last year, California’s public utility regulator ordered TracFone to pay $24.4 million in unpaid fees and interest.
TracFone and another Slim company, Simple Mobile, take part in the U.S. government’s Lifeline program, under which mandatory fees tacked onto consumers’ phone bills help subsidize phone service for low-income consumers, ensuring them access to emergency services.
Congressional Republicans say the Lifeline program is riddled with fraud and has helped enrich Slim by subsidizing “Obamaphones” to the poor.