With the major exception of Middle East peace negotiations, diplomacy is breaking Colin Powell's way these days.
Currently on an eight-day, 10-nation trip, Powell told reporters traveling with him he was "very pleased" at the outcome of negotiations in Bonn, Germany where rival Afghan tribal factions were able in two-and-a-half weeks to agree on an interim government which puts a premium on power sharing, something Afghan politics is not known for.
The U.N.-led talks moved far faster than Powell had hoped. "I wasn't even thinking about elections when we started this, and here they've popped out with a schedule for elections. It's quite remarkable."
Powell is quite aware the "real work" is about to begin. He points out the myriad problems of putting a failed state back in working order: connecting the water supply, getting the roads cleared, coordinating the delivery of humanitarian aid and reconstruction efforts from the international community.
The success of the ongoing military campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida has made Powell's diplomatic efforts more urgent and this secretary of state is happy to share the credit. He raves to reporters about the job his man in Bonn, Ambassador James Dobbins, did. Taking a good-natured jab at the well-dressed Dobbins, Powell said we'll soon be seeing Dobbins walking the streets of Kabul. Dobbins will be sent there to head the U.S. diplomatic presence as the interim government takes over on December 22.
Also on this trip Powell will make three stops in Central Asia, a senior State Department official told reporters in Brussels. Powell told his fellow NATO foreign ministers "we need to broaden and intensify our contacts with the nations of Central Asia, and we need to do that now."
To emphasize this point, Powell heads from Brussels for stops in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan. Powell will thank leaders in Central Asia for allowing the U.S. to use bases in their countries as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, making the Pentagon's job much easier in waging war on the Taliban in Afghanistan. He'll also be talking about how the Bush administration can use foreign aid to help their countries.
Powell will also find himself in Moscow, his first trip there as secretary of state. It will be the third time on the trip he will get together with Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov.
Already having had private sessions in Bucharest during the OSCE meeting and in Brussels while attending NATO ministerial gatherings, the two will resume their discussions on the Bush administration plans for a missile defense system as well as Russia's cooperation in the war on terrorism, newly energized by the events of September 11.
While all this diplomacy is taking place in a positive, forward mving direction, Powell keeps one eye focused on the one problem that seems to defy all diplomatic efforts to solve it: the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Powell's newly-designated special envoy, retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni has been there for almost two weeks but any potential progress on getting the parties back to talking about peace has been constantly interrupted by Palestinian terrorists' bombs and Israel's military response. In short, the continuing cycle of violence still has the upper hand. Still, Powell said there has been "some minor progress" in the last 24 hours and diplomats familiar with the situation acknowledge one more bomb could end all hope of making any diplomatic progress.
And so Secretary Powell moves on. About the only thing he can be certain of is that the weather in Central Asia will be cold and the tensions in the Middle East will remain hot.
Is it a good time to be secretary of state? From the smile on his face when he talks about the problems in his in box there's no real doubt about the answer.
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