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
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 . …