The secretary of state called it a "whirlwind tour" but that doesn't quite do it justice. Condoleezza Rice, chief foreign affairs adviser to President Bush, is winding up her first foreign trip as secretary of state and she'll be returning home tired but undoubtedly happy with the way things went.
However, with unwelcome news about North Korea breaking at the end of her trip, the secretary of state got a reality check — not that she needed one — that no matter how finely tuned a trip is, the message you want to get out is sometimes overshadowed by other developments elsewhere in the world.
Thus, the good news about anwas a big plus for Rice and the Bush administration, as was the news from her NATO allies that they'll offer more help for Iraq. , however, is a big setback for the administration, given North Korea's existing nuclear weapons program.
Fortunately for Rice, the news from North Korea comes at the very end of her weeklong trip; eight countries in Europe along with Israel and the West Bank in the Middle East. Here she comes, there she goes. Part whirling dervish, part perfectly-scripted diplomat.
Rice moved quickly everywhere she went. For every foreign minister she met, Rice also did a couple of media interviews (18 in all). Then there were multiple daily press conferences (13 altogether), roundtables with intellectuals and academics (London, Berlin and Paris), and a major foreign policy speech in Paris given before a school of international relations which State Department officials said was one of the centers of intellectual opposition to Bush policy on Iraq. Rice said, "It is time to turn away from disagreements of the past. It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship, and a new chapter in our alliance."
The photographers couldn't get enough of her. In Germany, Rice said she hadn't ever seen so many cameras. She had, of course, but they've always been focused on her boss, President Bush, not on her. Rice may not be a rock star, but the former ice skater and accomplished pianist knows what being the center of attention is like. In a London interview with Sir David Frost, she was asked about running for president in 2008. Germany's Gerhard Schroeder got in a "now that's real woman power" quip. Rice didn't seem to mind a bit.
Rice, who has said she'd like to be NFL Commissioner, watched only the beginning and the end of this year's Super Bowl live in the wee hours of the morning local time in her Jerusalem hotel room. In one of the more impressive statements of her trip, Rice accurately predicted not only the outcome of the game but the margin of victory. "Patriots by three," she had said several days before the game. The game was replayed on tape on her plane as she flew from Jerusalem to Rome.
At one time having aspired to be a concert pianist herself, Rice clearly enjoyed a visit to the Hector Berlioz Conservatory in Paris where she listened to music students perform Beethoven and Tedeschi. "They say Beethoven is the most difficult composer for the voice," Rice told a small choir who performed Beethoven for her, "but you made it sound easy." Rice did not offer to play the grand piano in the practice room but she told the young musicians she plays in a weekly chamber music group and if she ever is able to learn all of Dvorak's "A Major Piano Quintet" she'd come back and play for them.
Then it was back to business — Iran, Iraq, peace in the Middle East and North Korea. With Mr. Bush due to make a visit to Europe later this month, much of this trip was meant to gauge European opinion before his visit, and make efforts to soften lingering European opposition to the Bush administration's Iraq policy and current disagreements about the way to approach Iran. U.S. officials seemed to think that the governments which opposed Mr. Bush on Iraq most strongly — France, Germany and Russia — have basically reconciled themselves to dealing with him for the next four years, now that the American election is over. Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, for example, has already OK'd his army training Iraqi army officers and, with Rice standing next to him in Berlin, said he'd consider increasing the level of that help.
Iran's nuclear ambitions and European attempts to diplomatically resolve a looming confrontation between Washington and Tehran was a recurring subject Rice and European officials dealt with. The same with Iraq, not only because of the recent elections which went favorably but also because she received pledges of support from her European colleagues in NATO to help build and train Iraq's security forces.
At the end of her trip, the European Union's Javier Solana said "the United States and Europe probably have to talk less about ourselves and more about what we can do together." Rice would be quite happy if everyone else she and Mr. Bush have to talk with would be willing to go forward on that basis.
By Charles Wolfson