WASHINGTON - The U.S. State Department struggled Tuesday to explain Secretary Hillary Clinton's face-off with a Congolese student.

It was a frustrating exchange spokesman P.J. Crowley was drawn into with reporters during the daily news briefing.

Clinton bristled Monday in Kinshasa when a Congolese university student apparently asked what her husband thought about an international financial matter.

"My husband is not secretary of state. I am," she responded in an exchange the State Department tried Tuesday to take the steam out of as accounts made headlines.

Asked if Clinton had lost her cool, spokesman P.J. Crowley ducked.

"Perhaps he was nervous," and the student meant to ask about President Barack Obama, Crowley said, and not about her husband, former President Bill Clinton. That was the explanation the student later gave Mrs. Clinton.

As reporters persisted, Crowley said, "It was posed in a way that said I want to get the views of two men, but not you, the secretary of state. And I think obviously, she reacted to that."

Still, Crowley said, "It's part of something that she is obviously very passionate about...that the role of women in the agricultural sector, in the political sector, in civil society; if Africa's going to advance in the future, the role of women has to be more significant in the continent than it is today."

Asked whether she regretted the way she had dealt with the student's question, Crowley said he had not talked to her about it.

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