Magazine article The Masthead

State Department Briefing Offers Insights Not Only about Policy

Magazine article The Masthead

State Department Briefing Offers Insights Not Only about Policy

Article excerpt

When attending a high-level briefing with government officials, one expects a fair serving of boilerplate ... along with decent helpings of party line and bureaucratese. What is consistently surprising about NCEW's annual briefing at the State Department is the degree to which personality sprinkled with candor is the main course.

You would expect Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to defend President Bush's foreign policy initiatives--or, as the case may be, the absence of them. What you might not expect is the impassioned way she countered a question--all right, a suggestion, really--that a new emphasis on the diplomatic track reflected a change in philosophy for the administration.

"I think of this as the natural evolution of having laid certain groundwork," Rice said. "You work very tirelessly to align the incentives and the disincentives for both your adversaries and your friends to the point that you can then harvest the benefits."

Her tenacity flared again when she discussed the difference between talking for the sake of talking and negotiating with purpose. "When I go into a discussion even with my closest friends, I go in expecting to achieve something."

After a few chuckles, she adds, "My closest diplomatic friends."

One of her closest diplomatic assistants is Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs. Foreign policy discussions with Rice and Burns present a case of contrasts. Where Rice is animated, Burns is reserved--but no less forceful.

Burns is the point man for U.S. efforts to contain Iran's regional and nuclear ambitions. "Our policy is to deny Iran a nuclear weapon, not 'We wish they would not have a nuclear weapon," Burns explains pedagogically. "They shall not have a nuclear weapon." The strength of the words seems strangely inconsistent with his soothing voice and calm demeanor. …

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