Condoleezza Rice took the oath as secretary of state — a second time — on Friday and President Bush assured the world that she will lead by “character and conviction and wisdom.”
Rice pledged, in response, to use diplomacy to widen the community of democracy. “You have given us our mission and we are ready to serve our great country and the cause of freedom for which it stands,” she said.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg administered the oath in the State Department’s formal dining room Friday, two days after Bush’s national security adviser had been officially sworn in so that she could start her job. Friday’s oath-taking was for the president to witness, along with Rice’s family, friends — and the cameras.
Praise from the bench
Ginsburg praised Rice as a person of “exceptional talent.”
Both Bush and Rice paid tribute in their remarks to Colin Powell, who was secretary of state in Bush’s first term. “All of us admire and appreciate the service of Colin Powell,” the president said.
“Colin Powell left big shoes to fill when he left the State Department,” Bush added. “Condoleezza Rice is the person to fill them.”
Rice took the oath of office as the nation’s 66th secretary of state in a private ceremony Wednesday night at the White House with Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., administering it.
Bush catapulted Rice to the role of top U.S. diplomat after she served for four years as his national security adviser. She hit the ground running Thursday with a pep talk to cheering State Department employees crowded into a lobby, meetings on Iraq and the tsunami disaster and telephone conversations with seven foreign leaders as she planned a trip to Europe and the Middle East next week.
Middle East trip a surprise
Her trip next week to Europe, foreshadowing one later in February by the president, was widely expected, but not her foray to the Middle East.
It promptly carries out a promise she made to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearings that she would become personally involved in efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
It will be a brief visit, tucked in-between European stops and confined to meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. There are no planned diversions to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Iraq.
The aim is to measure the likelihood of generating momentum to drive Israel and the Palestinians to the peace table.
In making preparations, Rice met Wednesday at the White House with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and talked on the telephone Thursday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Next week, she is to meet in Washington with Dov Weisglass, who is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s chief of staff.