The broken elbow that has kept Secretary of State Hillary Clinton off the world stage for several weeks did not prevent her from addressing her department employees and interns Friday, as she began to mark her first six months on the job.

Clinton has not been accompanying the president on trips out of the country nearly as much as her predecessors did. When President Obama returns this weekend from his current trip to Russia, Italy and Ghana, he will have visited a total of nine countries without his secretary of state in their less than six months in office. 

But aides dismiss suggestions that Obama and Clinton are growing apart. Indeed, on Friday Clinton hailed the foreign policy progress she and the president have made, saying the administration is patching up "strained alliances" and striving to influence "adversaries" to change their behavior. 

Making sure to throw in a couple cracks about her injury, Clinton forecast tough challenges ahead but said the administration is making strides. 

"We've been on this job for almost half a year. We've been working hard and some of us have the scars to prove it," Clinton, her arm still in a sling, said to laughter. 

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"I have not been throwing sharp elbows," she joked. "We are seeing encouraging results from all of our efforts, including my physical therapy." 

The secretary of state plans to make what is being called a major policy speech next week at the Council on Foreign Relations to mark, more officially, her first six months in office. 

She seemed to give a preview Friday, crediting the administration with making strides toward restoring ties with countries around the world. 

"We are repairing strained alliances. We're cultivating new partnerships. We're working to engage and change the behavior of adversaries. And we are prioritizing development along with diplomacy as part of our global agenda," she said. 

The administration is grappling with a host of international challenges, not all of which look any closer to being resolved. 

Speaking from Italy, Obama on Friday continued to condemn the Iranian crackdown on pro-reform demonstrators in the wake of the country's disputed elections. The breakdown in the wake of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election has imperiled U.S. hopes of restoring ties with the Islamic regime. North Korea also continues to defy international warnings by conducting repeated missile tests. 

And the administration was recently caught in a difficult spot, having to stick up for leftist Honduran President Manuel Zelaya after he was ousted from office. 

But Obama seemed to make some progress toward resetting relations with Russia during his talks this week with President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow. 

Clinton did not go on that trip, but officials said she would have, if not for her broken elbow. 

It's unclear whether Clinton will accompany the globe-trotting Obama more in the latter half of the year. Clinton has met up with Obama in Europe, Trinidad and Tobago and Egypt this year, but the president has gone without her to a slew of countries. 

Like her predecessors, Clinton has kept a vigorous international schedule of her own. She's visited Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Central America, as well as Canada and Mexico, on her own time. Clinton plans to head to India on a separate trip next week, after her policy address. 

Clinton said Friday that the Obama administration is facing very high expectations on the world stage. 

"It may not be fair, but that's kind of the way it is," she said, noting that foreign leaders have made "very aggressive demands on our country." 

Clinton took a shot at former President George W. Bush, saying at least one foreign leader told her that the reason they didn't make such demands over the last eight years was because, "We knew we would never get a response." 

Clinton added: "We don't have the luxury of being bystanders." 

Clinton said that the department has had to work "overtime" to deal with what she called an "unprecedented set of challenges" on the world stage. 

"We don't have the luxury of deciding which issues to deal with," she said. "We need to work better, work smarter and work together with more partners in and beyond our government." 

Clinton also announced she would be instituting a new review process within the State Department to assess the agency's needs and progress every four years.