Syria Trip Tests Powell's Vision for 'Let's Talk' Diplomacy ; Talks Come as the State Department Faces a Rift with Pentagon over Tone of Foreign Policy

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Secretary of State Colin Powell has the American public behind his inclusive, let's-discuss-our-differences approach to the world as he visits Syria this weekend. But the Pentagon and supporters of more aggressive diplomacy are nipping at his heels.

A week after Mr. Powell sent his assistant for East Asian and Pacific affairs to Beijing for controversial talks with North Korea, the secretary himself is under fire for making the trip to Damascus, which the State Department just this week kept on its annual list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Most criticism of Powell's approach to diplomacy emanates from the Pentagon - or from surrogates for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his more muscular, black-and-white vision of the world. The jousting over the tone, direction, and emphasis of American diplomacy was already frequent post-9/11, but it has intensified in the wake of the quick US military victory in Iraq.

"Colin Powell has staked out the broader, more positive, and indeed less threatening approach to the rest of the world," says Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. "For others who favor a more limited, blunt, and more ideological approach to foreign policy, especially following a successful military campaign, Colin Powell is the big target."

Inside clashes over foreign policy are not unique to George W. Bush's administration, but some experts assert - and some diplomats warn - that the military is playing an increasingly influential role.

As evidence, they point to the Bush administration's national security strategy, unveiled last September, which highlights a doctrine of preemptive military action - first employed in the Iraq war - and the principle that no power is permitted to challenge American military superiority.

There are many key policy areas that will feel the impact of the foreign- policy duel, experts say, including Iraqi reconstruction, the Israeli-Pale- stinian conflict, North Korea, and relations with China and the United Nations.

For example, the US this week released its "road map" for settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a move that Powell, along with other international powers, has been pushing. But foreign- policy hard-liners inspired by Secretary Rumsfeld are skeptical of the new plan, since it presses both Israel and the Palestinians to make tough concessions. …