Rice travel diplomacy year – up close and personal

By Saul Hudson

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – When Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice needed to smooth over a spiraling crisis with European
allies over U.S. detainee treatment, she deployed the most
potent weapon in her diplomatic arsenal — a blue-and-white
Boeing 757 jet.

Rice flew across the Atlantic this week to personally “take
the heat” — as Austria’s leader put it — and defuse allies’
pressure at the end of a year of intense travel diplomacy that
has helped change the image of an aloof, go-it-alone

Rice’s one-to-one diplomacy has helped her strengthen
relations with governments who felt alienated in President
George W. Bush’s first-term as he rejected global pacts on
climate and an international tribunal with little consultation.

Without her yearlong efforts, said Charles Kupchan, who
teaches international relations at Georgetown University, this
week’s trip would not have been smooth.

“If the detainee issue had come up a year ago, it would
have been gloves off,” he said.

By meeting her European counterparts in the EU
headquarters, Brussels, Rice gave them cover to return to their
angry constituents and say they had won a pledge from the top
U.S. diplomat that America does not abuse prisoners.

Such gestures matter in diplomacy — just ask Dutch Foreign
Minister Ben Bot.

Going into a NATO meeting, he was “very unsatisfied” with
the U.S. defense against allegations the CIA runs secret
prisons and covertly transfers detainees around the region.

After Rice presented him and his counterparts with what
aides said was the same defense she had made in public over
previous days in Germany, Romania and Ukraine, Bot was suddenly
converted. “We have gotten the satisfactory answers,” he said.

But Emira Woods of the Institute for Policy Studies, a
Washington-based think tank typically opposed to Bush
administration policies, criticized Rice’s approach.

“She makes fleeting visits that are no more than a blip on
the screen and then there is no sustained follow-up. The trips
serve more for photo opportunities than policy-making,” Woods


Rice’s five-day trip that ended on Friday mirrored her
first foreign tour as secretary of state when she wooed
Europeans to repair a transatlantic rift over the U.S. invasion
of Iraq.

That February trip of 10 stops in seven days established a
style of diplomacy that contrasted sharply with her
predecessor, Colin Powell, who was labeled the least-traveled
secretary of state.

Powell’s supporters said his stellar reputation abroad and
personal charisma meant he could connect with his foreign
colleagues on the telephone to push U.S. interests.

But his critics say American diplomacy suffered. They cite
Turkey’s refusal to allow U.S. troops to invade Iraq through
the mainly Muslim country, questioning if a Powell trip could
have won over the traditional ally.

Widespread anti-American sentiment means many U.S. policies
— especially support for Israel, the Iraq war and the
treatment of detainees — are opposed regardless of Rice’s air

Some Rice travel has appeared counterproductive.

After praising and criticizing Sudan’s leader on a trip,
the Khartoum government appeared to take the mixed message as a
let-up in U.S. pressure over Darfur and violence in the area
spiraled in the following months.

On some trips, the high-profile target has appeared to
attract violence, with bombs exploding within hours in Lebanon
and Egypt after a trip to Beirut as militants sought to flex
their muscles to undercut her calls for peace.

Rice’s planes — loaded with jet-lagged, bleary-eyed aides
— have crisscrossed the globe, touching down on every
continent except Australia, and traveling several times to the
Middle East, Europe and Asia.

She even took a rare extended, domestic trip to her native
Alabama with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to bond with her
counterpart from top ally Britain.

That record reflects the approach of most of her modern
predecessors and particularly recalls the travel style of two
of the most effective Republican secretaries of state — Henry
Kissinger and James Baker. Like Rice, they counted on staunch
support from their presidents.