WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that she would step off the fast track "for a little while" when she leaves the State Department -- a comment that kept speculation alive she might ultimately consider a presidential run in 2016.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since suffering a stomach virus, concussion and blood clot, Clinton said she wanted to ensure a seamless transition to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed her.

Asked if "retirement" came next, Clinton replied: "I don't know if that is a word I would use, but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while."

Clinton, 65, has repeatedly told interviewers in recent years that she was not interested in another presidential run; in her 2008 campaign she lost the Democratic nomination to Obama.

Her comment Wednesday seemed to leave open the possibility of changing her mind.

Clinton has said that after leaving the State Department she planned to rest and then serve as an advocate for women and children, a role she performed when she was first lady.

She ranks in polls as the early 2016 presidential favorite among Democratic voters.

Clinton called her return to the State Department "somewhat bittersweet" because she will be leaving shortly.

"We are focused on continuing our work, finishing up everything that we can and helping Senator Kerry with his transition," she said.

Among the tasks ahead are her long-awaited testimony before Congress about the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

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She is expected to testify Jan. 22.