Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ambitious First Trip for Rice Sets New Foreign-Policy Tone

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ambitious First Trip for Rice Sets New Foreign-Policy Tone

Article excerpt

Testing the waters.

On several levels, that is what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be doing as she undertakes Thursday a crucial first foreign trip of her new job, to Europe and the Middle East.

Riding a jet stream of momentum from the Iraqi elections, Dr. Rice will plumb Europe for openings toward greater allied participation in Iraq, as well as for greater cooperation on Middle East peace.

In Israel and the Palestinian territories early next week, she will assess progress so far in taking advantage of the opportunities opened by the election of a new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to disengage from Gaza.

But Rice will also be trying out her new role, where she is more the nation's top diplomat and less the presidential adviser than she was as national security adviser. How will her influence in the White House stack up now, for example, against that of Vice President Dick Cheney's office, which is expected to maintain keen interest in US policy toward Israel?

More broadly, she will be testing reaction to the US among key foreign partners under a second Bush term, and to herself in particular as the successor to Colin Powell. A secretary of State who was highly admired in foreign capitals, Mr. Powell in the end was seen as a Bush administration outsider. Now foreign leaders will be getting to know an "insider" with close personal ties to the president.

As she does this, Rice is expected to try out the administration's new foreign-policy tone. "In her [Senate] testimony, Rice called this a time for diplomacy, she emphasized working with allies, and she wants to build on that by [signaling] that this administration gets it, that even the most powerful country in the world can't reach its goals on its own," says Bruce Jentleson, director of the Terry Sanford Institute for Public Policy at Duke University. "She seems to want to get that message out there strong and early."

One of Rice's more symbolic events will be a speech she'll give in France, a country she once famously said the US should "punish" for its opposition to the Iraq war. "She wanted to do it in Paris because she felt Paris was one of the places where there is a lot of debate and discussion about the US and Europeans," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said earlier this week. He said Rice wants to "put her ideas into the mix."

Yet this maiden trip can't be all listening and symbolism, some analysts warn. Mr. Jentleson, who served on the State Department's policy planning staff in the Clinton administration, recalls that Warren Christopher made a maiden trip as secretary of State to Europe with the goal of ushering in an America that would listen better - and was criticized for it. "He was criticized for not leading enough," Jentleson says. …

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