When you are America’s most senior diplomat you know exactly how to handle requests for favours from friends: be polite and show willing but don’t commit and certainly make sure you are never on the losing side.
So when Hillary Clinton, then US secretary of state, was asked to make a statement in support of Tony Blair’s ill-fated candidacy for European Council president she said she was in a bit of a hurry but would “if I get the chance”.
Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair’s former chief of staff, sent a Clinton confidante a note in October 2009 asking if Mrs Clinton would be willing to praise Mr Blair during a trip to Europe, in order to signal that the newly-installed Obama administration thought him a strong candidate.
“I just got this as I am heading for the Belfast airport,” she wrote. “Not sure I could have arranged it anyway. But, if I get a chance, I will certainly say something positive.”