Travels With Secretary Powell

CBS News State Department Reporter Charles Wolfson's latest Diplomatic Dispatch:
"Are you exhausted? Is this job as much fun as you thought it would be?"

Smiling broadly, Secretary of State Colin Powell answered a reporter's question on board his plane near the end of his trip: "Oh, yes."

"He never lost his energy," said a senior aide on the last leg of Powell's first big trip abroad as secretary of state. It is also one key to being a successful envoy, since meetings are often scheduled from early morning to late in the evening, sometimes after only a few hours of sleep.

The fast-paced four-day trip to seven countries in the Middle East and Europe was jam-packed with meetings: ceremonies with heads of state, business sessions with heads of governments, bilateral meetings with one other leader, and group gatherings with fellow foreign ministers.

On this trip there was also a wreath laying at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, and a commemorative ceremony at the U.S. embassy in Kuwait on the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait by the U.S.-led Gulf War coalition.

Powell discussed international sanctions on Iraq, and in every Arab capital he heard the same thing: current UN-imposed sanctions are seen in the region as hurting the Iraqi people and not Saddam Hussein's regime.

The Bush Administration effort, spearheaded by Powell, is to consult with Arab leaders in the region and with others at the UN with an eye toward modifying current sanctions.


CBS (Wolfson)
Talking with Egypt's foreign minister, Amre Mussa

If agreement can be reached on changes, Powell says "we can remove this hammer that is being used against us, suggesting we are hurting the Iraqi people."

By the end of the trip, Powell was telling reporters he was pleased to hear from Arab leaders that the U.S. was "headed down the right track," though he cautioned, "please see this for what it is: one quick trip for consultations ... We've only been at this seriously for three days."

Getting the Middle East peace talks moving again was on Powell's agenda in Jerusalem and Ramallah, as he met with Israel's prime minister-elect, Ariel Sharon, and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. In Brussels, it was NATO expansion and the latest problems in the Balkans.

Powell held three on-the-record briefing sessions with the fourteen reporters who traveled with him and faced questions from the press after almost every major meeting in which he participated. There were also backgroud briefings and off-the-record sessions from senior State Department officials.

Do Powell and his press aides care what's reported? You bet. When stories and headlines appeared talking about the Bush administration "easing" sanctions on Iraq, it was made clear by State Department officials that what was being discussed was a "modification" — a "sharpening." Certainly, it was not an "easing," they said.

While the traveling press filed their stories, Powell used his time to meet with some of his "troops" — the embassy employees who deal with foreign governments on a day-to-day basis. The retired army general knows such meetings are good for morale, even if he spends only a few minutes with them to say how much he appreciates their work.

But to paraphrase the old saying, all work and no play makes even a secretary of state a dull official. Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher used to go jogging. Madeleine Albright tried to escape once in a while to go shopping.


AP
King of the Road: Powell at the wheel, Abdullah along for the ride.

Still, it was a surprise, following his meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, to see Powell jump out from behind the driver's seat of the luxury Mercedes Benz V-12 sedan as he and his host arrived at the airport's VIP terminal in Amman.

Powell is a real car buff and is known for working under the hood of his favorite old Volvo. King Abdullah started to drive Powell to the airport when the secretary of state said he had never driven a V-12. No problem. The two switched places, left their startled security teams to follow behind in the motorcade, and, following the lead car, Colin Powell got to test drive a V-12 Benz.

Never mind if the critics write op-ed pieces about your policy. Some days it really pays to go to work.


By Charles Wolfson
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