Powell Recasts and Relives Term ; He Defends Bush Administration on Iraq and Cites Successes from China to Russia

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Igor Ivanov wasn't happy. Or, at the least, he was doing a good job of pretending to be displeased.

"You know, this is all wrong. You've got it all fouled up," he snapped.

On the other end of the transatlantic phone line, Colin Powell remained adamant. Fifty-two Russian diplomats were going to be expelled from the US under suspicion of spying. Mr. Powell had been secretary of State only a few weeks, but already he was facing his first diplomatic crisis.

"This is not a good start to the relationship," said Foreign Minister Ivanov, as recalled by Powell, his American counterpart. "You know what we will do, right?"

After years of dealing with world problems, Powell had a realistic idea about what came next. "Yes, you're going to throw out 52 Americans," he said.

"Right," said Mr. Ivanov.

"And then it's over?" asked Powell.

"And then it's over, right," said Ivanov.

Nearly four years after the Bush administration first took office, it is easy to forget that it has had to deal with a wide range of world problems and relationships - not just Iraq. In a valedictory luncheon hosted by the Monitor, Secretary of State Colin Powell relived a few of those moments and defended the administration's overall foreign policy. Since their rocky beginning, US relations with Russia, for instance, have only improved, he said. The expulsion of diplomats ended after one round of tit for tat, and the two sides started to "do business."

Similarly, US relations with China have seldom been better. The US has managed the difficult feat of drawing closer to both India and Pakistan. US forces have eliminated bad regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq and continue to fight terrorism wherever they find it. "I think it's a pretty good record," says Powell.

The dust-up with Russia - which followed the US discovery that FBI agent Robert Hanssen had spied for Russia, and before that the Soviet Union, for more than a decade - was perhaps Powell's initiation at Foggy Bottom. But it was somewhat scripted, as it followed unwritten rules worked out during the cold war.

The Bush administration's first major unpredictable row was with China. On April 1, 2001, the US got word that a Chinese fighter plane had collided with a US espionage aircraft off the Chinese coast. The Chinese pilot was lost, and the US plane and its crew were forced down on Chinese territory. "The Chinese had more of a problem than we did because it was their pilot who had been killed ... They really had to worry about public opinion, believe it or not, amazingly," said Powell.

After a few days, Powell and his Chinese counterparts began to realize that things had gotten out of hand, with too many strong statements by both sides. Eventually a compromise was struck, with the US saying it was sorry for the incident but not apologizing. But both sides had seen how a spark between them could be dangerous.

"From that point on, we sat down with the Chinese foreign minister . …