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Rice would have to mend European fences

It's hard for Europeans to think of Condoleezza Rice without recalling the low points in trans-Atlantic relations that grew out of the war in Iraq.
Outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell and  National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice with President Bush at a summit of American leaders in Mexico last January. Rice has called Powell a mentor.Jaime Puebla / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

In Europe, it’s hard for some to think of Condoleezza Rice — President Bush's nominee to replace Colin Powell as U.S. secretary of state — without recalling the low points in trans-Atlantic relations that grew out of the war in Iraq.

After all, it was Rice who raised eyebrows last year with her Machiavellian suggestions for how Washington should treat European opponents of the U.S.-led invasion.

“Punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia,” Rice was widely quoted as telling associates in the spring of 2003.

Trans-Atlantic ties have since improved to some extent. But Rice’s reputation still precedes her.

“Condie Rice is a woman with character, that’s the least we can say,” French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Tuesday of President Bush’s trusted national security adviser.

Talk of rebuilding ties
But Barnier underlined French hopes of rebuilding ties with the United States no matter who holds the post of chief diplomat. “If she is named ... we will continue to have the same relations,” Barnier told Europe-1 radio. “With the United States, the moment has come, looking ahead of us, to rebuild, to renew this trans-Atlantic relationship.”

Many in Europe, Asia and the Middle East believed Rice will add a more conservative, hawkish bent to U.S. diplomacy after Powell, seen by many as a moderating voice in a Cabinet of hawks.

France’s left-leaning daily newspaper Liberation noted her “extremely cut-and-dried opinions” on occasions and said she has surprised diplomats with the “very hard and firm tone with which she speaks of the Palestinians.”

In Greece, meanwhile, the liberal Athens daily Vima said Powell’s departure “raises concerns the United States will toughen its foreign policy.”

But Dominique Moisi, a special adviser to the French Institute of International Relations, said Rice’s “punish France” reputation is “secondary” to Washington and Paris’ apparent desire to mend fences.

“It’s political will, not people, that counts,” Moisi said. “The Americans need France in Iraq and overall in the Middle East, and the French feel that they went too far and isolated themselves.”

Mideast perspective
Some analysts in Kuwait, a major ally of Washington in the Gulf since a U.S.-led coalition liberated it in 1991 from a seven-month Iraqi occupation, said a harder line may be a good thing.

“With her strong personality and the support of the American administration, she could be able to achieve change in foreign policy,” Ahmed al-Baghdadi, political science teacher at the state Kuwait University, said of Rice. “She is tough and more decisive, and this is what the area needs.”

Former Kuwaiti Oil Minister Ali al-Baghli said Rice’s new role could “increase the U.S. policy’s determination and drive to finish what it started such as (pushing for) democratic reform, and building a new Iraq.”

“With (Palestinian leader) Yasser Arafat gone, and moderate and realistic leaders hopefully taking over, we hope that the American administration decides to solve that issue, especially that Rice has good relations with the Israeli leadership.”

Russian perspective
Sergei Karaganov, head of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policies, a leading independent Russian foreign policy think-tank, said little change is likely in Washington-Moscow relations since Rice helped craft U.S. policy there, but that she “will be less independent in crafting U.S. foreign policy” than Powell.

“The key issue now is whether there will be resignations now in the conservative wing of the administration,” Karaganov said.

Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks said Rice’s appointment would benefit his country — dubbed part of the “new Europe” by Bush last year — and its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia, which were occupied by the Soviet Union for more than 50 years.

“It would be a very intellectual choice, and (Rice) also understands Russia very well. This is important for Latvia and for Europe,” he said. “We are Europeans but we value our strategic partnership with America as well.”

Bush's close confidante
There's no question that Rice is close to the president. He even has has a nickname for her — “the unsticker” — because he said she helped “unstick” problems in Iraq caused by the gears of government.

She was frequently at Bush’s side on the campaign trail and often travels with the Bush family to the Camp David retreat on weekends. And she spends more time with the president than any administration official except White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

She was criticized for the administration's handling of terrorist threats before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In testimony before the independent 9/11 commission last April, she rejected criticism that the administration was negligent in the summer before the attacks and said there was no “silver bullet” that could have averted them. Some members of the commission disagreed with her, citing documents and other testimony that there was evidence that al-Qaida was planning an attack on the United States.

Assuming the Senate will confirm Rice to replace Colin Powell as secretary of state, her job will be to keep U.S. diplomacy running smoothly across the globe.

As national security adviser, Rice worked to keep Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from butting heads; orchestrated a North Asia policy designed to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions; helped the president deal with the nuclear weapons threat in Iran; and shepherded work on the Middle East peace process.

A fighter at 50
Not everyone pours praise on the former Stanford University provost and political science professor. Her critics have said she has left too many problems unresolved and needed to exert a heavier hand to bridge the moderate State Department and the more conservative Pentagon.

But Rice, a determined individual who celebrated her 50th birthday Saturday at a surprise black tie party held at the British Embassy, is hardly a pushover.

“I think that she’d probably be pretty good,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy adviser at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution. “It’s a more prestigious job than national security adviser even if she’s less close (in proximity) to her political patron, the president.”

Powell’s departure may affect internal debates on foreign policy, but “he lost a lot of those anyway,” O’Hanlon added. “I think what’s more fundamental is whether these guys are going to change their world view.”

Worked with first President Bush
Rice is a longtime trusted adviser of both Bush and his father, the former president. She worked at the National Security Council in the first Bush administration.

Then, when the younger Bush ran for president in 2000, she schooled him on international affairs, sometimes breaking up their sessions to chat about baseball with the one-time managing general partner of the Texas Rangers.

He named a rise on his Texas ranch “Balkan Hill” because Rice once gave him a quick history lesson of the Balkans in the middle of a four-mile hike.

Before becoming Bush’s national security adviser in January 2001, Rice spent six years as provost at Stanford, the institution’s chief budget and academic officer. She’s an expert on Soviet and East European foreign and defense policy.

Rice was born in Birmingham, Ala. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Denver, a master’s from Notre Dame and a doctorate from the Denver’s Graduate School of International Studies.

She's also an avid football and baseball fan. And asked what her dream job is, Rice doesn't think politics but sports -- commissioner of the National Football League.