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Posted at 5:52 PM ET, 12/ 2/2010

Clinton's endless day in Central Asia

By Glenn Kessler

MANAMA, Bahrain -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pulled a Central Asian hat trick Thursday -- and got a bonus country too.

Thanks to judicious use of time zones, Clinton and her staff managed to have a work day that stretched more than 22 hours, from baggage call to arrival at final destination. And she touched down in four countries, with the temperature going from zero to 70 degrees.

The day began with a 5 a.m. baggage call in the snowy streets of Astana, Kazakhstan, the second-coldest capital in the world, where the winds from Siberia whip across the plains. The country is almost on the other side of the world, 11 hours ahead of Washington.

Clinton had spent two days attending a security conference in the futuristic capital of the oil-rich, authoritarian nation -- where world-famous architects vie for commissions to build buildings in a landscape that looks like the moon. (One six-story shopping mall, covered with high-tech plastic sheeting that makes it look like a yurt, even includes a beach and surfing waves, with the sand imported from the Maldives.)

An hour and half later, Clinton landed in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the capital of a nascent democracy with few natural resources. The country recently held the first free parliamentary elections in Central Asia, but few of the buildings look like they have been updated since the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago. The temperature was warmer, about 45 degrees. Clinton met with President Roza Otunbayeva at length, and also addressed a televised town hall, lauding the poor country's efforts to create a democracy.

After five hours on the ground, it was back on the Boeing 757 jet for a one-hour ride, over glorious snow-covered mountains, to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, a wealthy cotton-growing country under the grip of strongman Islam Karimov, who also was the communist party boss before the country became independent. Tashkent is sprawling, modern city of 2.5 million people, a sort of mini version of Moscow. The temperature was 62 degrees. In two hours of meetings, Clinton brought up a series of human rights cases--jailed journalists and the like--to the evident annoyance of Karimov.

This four-hour stop was followed by a five-hour flight to the Persian Gulf island of Bahrain, where Clinton will give a speech on Friday. The plane's video map suggested the jet was flying over Iran until the map suddenly disappeared when the crew was questioned about the route. The map later popped back on showing the plane had manuevered around the country.

Bahrain is three time zones behind Kazakhstan, so when the plane landed, the time was 11:52 p.m. -- officially still the same day as when Clinton started her trek. Instead of snow, there were swaying palm trees and real beaches. The temperature was 70 degrees, despite the midnight hour, and will be in the eighties on Friday.

It was another half-hour drive to the hotel. Your humble correspondent is going to sleep.

By Glenn Kessler  | December 2, 2010; 5:52 PM ET
 
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