Rice Hits The Ground Running

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Newly installed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the Middle East, Western European capitals, Poland and Turkey beginning next week in her first foreign trip as America's top diplomat.

The State Department said Thursday that Rice, who was spending her first day on the job, will visit nine countries and the West Bank. Rice will visit Britain, and Germany, Italy, France, Belgium and Luxembourg in western Europe, plus Poland and Turkey, spokesman Richard Boucher said. The Middle East stop includes Israel and the West Bank. She will be gone a week.

Among her goals are mending relations with U.S. allies in Europe and assessing prospects for Arab-Israeli negotiations.

"She will meet leaders on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian leaders," Boucher said. "She will, first of all, look to hear from them about the opportunities and how they're proceeding."

In France, Rice plans to give her first major speech as secretary of state.

President Bush also plans a trip to Europe later in February, and Rice's visit helps prepare the way, Boucher said. Rice and her designated deputy Robert Zoellick plan to visit all the NATO capitals in the next few months.

"She intends to promote President Bush's vision of democracy and freedom as the keys to peace and prosperity," Boucher said.

"She will work to identify a common agenda for 2005 with our European partners and our partners in the Middle East, an agenda of fighting terrorism, proliferation, disease and poverty, as we support democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere."

Boucher said Rice will discuss NATO and separate European government help for training for Iraqi security forces.

He gave no precise details on the dates of each stop

Earlier Thursday, Rice told a large gathering of State Department employees at their headquarters in Washington's Foggy Bottom district, "America will stand for freedom and for liberty. It's great to be here."

"My door will be open," she said.

The Senate voted 85-13 to confirm her Wednesday after often sometimes contentious hearings in which Democrats strongly challenged her on the administration's Iraq policy. In history, only Henry Clay, who was confirmed as secretary of state in 1825 by a vote of 27-14, drew more opposition.

Rice was sworn-in as Colin Powell's replacement Wednesday night by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card in his West Wing office. Her designated replacement as national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, held the Bible.

President Bush planned to attend a ceremonial swearing-in Friday at the State Department, with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg administering the oath.

Rice, a one-time Stanford academic and analyst of the now-defunct Soviet Union, is the first black woman to hold the job of secretary of state. The first woman was Madeleine Albright; Powell was the first black man.