WASHINGTON -- They sat side by side, trading laughs and finishing each other's thoughts. Five years ago, the very prospect of such a moment would have been "improbable," as one of them put it.
But now as the improbable partnership between President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton winds down with her pending departure from the Cabinet, the two rivals-turned-allies sent a public signal of solidarity Sunday -- at a time when one has run his last election and the other is contemplating one more.
The unusual joint interview with Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton on the CBS News program "60 Minutes" was noteworthy mainly because it happened. Neither broke much ground in describing the journey that took them from bitter opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 to collaborators in dealing with terrorism, war, diplomacy and global economics.
But the picture of comity was presumably what the White House wanted when it proposed the interview to CBS in the first place.
"I consider Hillary a strong friend," Mr. Obama said.
"Very warm, close," Ms. Clinton said.
The two laughed off the meaning of the interview for the 2016 election, when many Democrats expect Ms. Clinton to run again. Mr. Obama could hardly endorse her when his vice president, Joe Biden, appears to be angling for the party's nomination as well.
"You guys in the press are incorrigible," Mr. Obama told Steve Kroft when he asked about the 2016 race during the interview, which was recorded last week. "I was literally inaugurated four days ago, and you're talking about elections four years from now."
Ms. Clinton suggested that it might even be illegal for her to answer.
"I am still secretary of state," she said, "so I'm out of politics. And I'm forbidden from even hearing these questions."
Ms. Clinton said she was still recovering from the concussion she suffered last month after falling and hitting her head. Among other things, she has to wear glasses for the time being instead of contact lenses.
"I have some lingering effects from the concussion that are decreasing and will disappear," she said. "But I have a lot of sympathy now when I pick up the paper and read about an athlete or one of our soldiers who's had traumatic brain injury."
The president lavished praise on Ms. Clinton for her discipline, stamina and talent. And as for any residual bad feelings, they said it had taken their aides longer to get over it than it had taken them.
"What did evolve was a friendship, as opposed to just a professional relationship," Mr. Obama said. "Friendships involve a sense of trust and being in the foxhole together. And that emerged during the course of months when we were making some very tough decisions."