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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Traveled to Europe to Repair Relations

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice completed her first trip overseas to Europe as the nation's top diplomat. Her goal was to repair relations between the United States and European nations opposed to the war in Iraq.

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    Condoleezza Rice, the new secretary of state, had barely moved into her office before setting out on a week-long, nine-country tour, designed above all to ease the breach with allies over the Iraq War.

    The fence-mending trip took her first to Europe — London, Berlin, Warsaw, and Ankara — then to the Middle East — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the West Bank– and, finally, back to Europe — Rome, Paris, Brussels, and Luxembourg.

    Her charm was on display at every stop, here with an ally who defied the U.S. over Iraq, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.


    That's woman power.


    At every stop she pressed one consistent theme: That elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories made it possible to turn a page in Washington's relations with its allies.


    Our differences, I think, are really behind us because it is so clear what the future holds for the alliance, for the transatlantic alliance, and what it is that we need to do.


    The diciest issue: How to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. While Rice said U.S. military action was "not on the agenda at this time," she had firm words for the Iranians and the Europeans who are negotiating with them.


    It is obvious that if Iran cannot be brought to live up to its international obligations, that in fact the IAEA statutes would suggest that Iran has to be referred to the U.N. Security Council.


    In the Middle East, she invited Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to visit the White House in the spring. But she called on both parties to take difficult steps for peace.


    We will ask of our partners and our friends here in Israel that Israel continues to take the hard decisions that must be taken in order to promote peace.


    Then it was back to Paris, for a cordial meeting with another prickly ally, French President Jacques Chirac.

    And then, her signature speech, a forceful call for Europe and the U.S. to join forces to promote the president's vision of expanding freedom in the Arab world.


    Ladies and gentlemen, this is a time of unprecedented opportunity for our transatlantic alliance. If we make the pursuit of global freedom the organizing principles of the 21st century, we will achieve historic global advances for justice and prosperity, for liberty and for peace.


    A final grace note in Paris: A visit to a music conservatory by the woman who is an accomplished pianist herself.


    You make it sound easy, but I know that is it not. I know that you must practice and work very hard.


    Secretary Rice's trip made clear that's how she intends to approach her new job.


    And for more on Secretary Rice's mission, we're joined by Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post– she accompanied Rice on the trip.

    Martin Walker, editor in chief of United Press International and former European editor of the Guardian in London; and Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Welcome all.

    Robin, you had a one story from the trip, the headline was "The Secretary of State Spreads her Wings." How different was she from the Condoleezza Rice that we knew as national security adviser?


    Well, as national security adviser, she was a woman who was always the senior administration official, never spoke on the record. In the early days, you could tell that she was a bit nervous.

    I remember going to briefings and you could see her legs shake behind the podium. She clung to a text. When we were on each of these stops, she did very well. She had much more of a commanding presence; she was engaging; she was humorous.

    She seemed much more self assured. I mean, I think a lot of things contributed to this. The timing of this trip was exquisite for her.

    The fact is, with Yasser Arafat's death, there was a real interest moving on by the new Palestinian leadership and the Israelis.

    With the Iraqi elections, the Europeans found the excuse to repair one of the rockiest periods in U.S.-European relations since World War II. So everything — there was a confluence of factors that really made this a successful trip for her.


    What were her goals, Martin?


    I think she had three goals: The first one was to show that U.S. foreign policy was under new management; that no longer was it Colin Powell.

    It was her and that she had the ear of the president, because Europeans have complained that really they didn't think Colin Powell spoke for anybody important anymore.

    The second thing she wanted to do I think was to clear away the broken crockery of the first term to say there really is now a very new opportunity in the wake of the Iraqi elections and so on. We can move on.

    She was preparing the way for President Bush's visit. And above all, and this went down, I think with great importance in Brussels and London and Paris, although it perhaps doesn't matter much to an American audience.

    But she said and this was really important, she said that America is still absolutely in favor of a united, integrated Europe and wants it as a partner.

    Most Europeans have been worried that Europe was increasingly being seen as a dangerous rival rather than as a partner by the conservatives in Washington.


    Much less having people in Washington talk about a new Europe and old Europe. It looks like they were trying to split it.

    So, Les Gelb, when she went to Europe or to the Middle East, was she taking any new, was she taking any change in policy or was she taking a new tact to basically bring the allies along to Bush policy?


    Well, she had a plan pretty much described as Martin did. The plan was well thought through, very well executed, done with style. It had to be done.

    But it's mostly blue smoke; the blue smoke had to be blown. She blew blue smoke at them, they blew blue smoke back.

    But there was very little concrete that was put on the table. The only concrete issue that came up was whether the United States would join with the Europeans in the diplomacy with Iran, and she said no, not by the hair on your chinny-chin-chin.

    But look, her trip was not less than I just said or what Martin just described. But it was not more than that, either.


    So, in other words, you don't think she was signaling either a toughening of U.S. policy or a willingness on the part of the Bush administration to perhaps temper its stance or at least its rhetoric on certain things?


    No, she certainly was signaling through this charm offensive what Robin and what Martin said. There is no doubt about that. But the specifics weren't put on the table. Nothing was asked and nothing was given.

    The hard part now begins when we sit down with the Europeans and say what does it mean when you are going to come with to us with a joint European position on how to deal with the Middle East or with arms sales to China or with handling Iran?

    Are we going to treat you differently? Are we going to take your views into account in the future in ways we didn't in the past? All that remains to be seen.

    And quite frankly, I don't think the Bush administration has crossed that bridge. The bridge they've crossed is let's make nice words.

    Let's clear the atmosphere. Let's try to eliminate some of the bad feeling. And they're right; that has to be done first.


    Okay. Let me get back to Robin. Before we go to what she actually accomplished, tell us a little more about her operating style.

    You traveled with both the previous secretary of state, Colin Powell, and now with Condi Rice. How differently did they approach the trip and how differently were they perceived?


    I think they're very different individuals. Colin Powell was a four-star military general, very congenial, outgoing.

    You know, people talked about how engaging he was in one-on-one conversations, how he would go into a room and ask the interlocutor, heads of state, what's on your agenda, and then he'd frame what the United States wants in that context.

    Condi Rice is a very different person. She is an intellectual, she's rather reclusive, a shy woman, who has been a provost academic and so she has a very different life experience.

    And as a woman, I think it's not nearly as easy for her to engage. But she was quite a machine on this trip. We went twice to three countries in one day. And we were all terribly sleep deprived by the end of it.

    She would get up every morning at 5:00 and she'd have elliptical machines in her room to exercise. She was, at the end, still full of energy. The rest of us were exhausted.


    Because you didn't have elliptical machines in your room.

    But Martin, the French, for instance, seem very taken with her style.

    One left-leaning paper described her as impeccable and saunier, seductive without overdoing it. How important this is style question? How important is it that she is a woman?


    Well, they are French. They love an opportunity to be gallant. I mean, there was Chirac seizing the chance to kiss her hand twice in public.

    But she is also a very stylish and engaging woman in her own right. Europeans respond to that and Europeans in a sense, define themselves by their ability to be very gallant, to be, to appreciate these sorts of things.

    Also, she is a rounded woman. She is a musician, she is an academic. She is an administrator; she's a woman of power. She is really quite something.

    And for the new face of America globally, to have a black woman, that really is something extraordinary. And Europe I think responded to that. She is a real asset.

    But one thing would I add and I think I'd correct Les a bit on this. I think there was some substance when she made it clear that America was prepared to put this whole business on the EU, lifting the arms embargo on China.

    Prepared to put that on one side and move on beyond it and accepting this was a done deal. That I think was as big a concession as could you probably expect to come out of this trip.


    What is your view, Robin, on the question that Les put on the table in my second question to him about whether she achieved anything on this trip, did she bring anything home?


    Well, when you look at the issue of Iraq which has been the most divisive issue between Europe and the United States, she won a commitment from the remaining members of NATO to get engaged in training.

    There is an interest in Europe in moving beyond the phase of division over whether the invasion was right to the reconstruction. And this again is where the election gave them the opportunity.

    The real question is: Will you see the good vibes that were expressed on both sides on this trip translate into something positive when President Bush goes out there later this month?

    Will there be this substance, the deliverables? Will it get beyond just the kind words and the rapprochement across the Atlantic?


    Les, if there is — and this was part one of really a two-part hit on the part of the Bush administration, because the president is going in just ten days.

    If something happens, and I know you said you thought this was blue smoke, but would you attribute it to her skill, her style, or the president's?

    Or is it more that as Robin said earlier, the circumstances have changed and that the Europeans actually have been yearning for a rapprochement?


    Well, I said it was blue smoke but it's good blue smoke. It had to be blown given all the bad smoke that we have been blowing in each other's eyes for the last four years. So it's a first step.

    But then you have to deal with real differences and there are still differences over Iraq. You can't erase the history.

    There were bitter feelings about what we did, what the Europeans did. But this isn't going to go away simply by Condi saying the past is behind us.


    And what is your view?


    Public opinion polls in Europe still show a great deal of anti-Americanism. The European leaders helped to create those feelings. Now those feelings place real limits on the kind of cooperation they can make with us.

    And as I said, the Bush team is going to have to decide when the Europeans come to us with their ideas about what to do with Iraq or on the Middle East negotiations, where is going to be the give.

    And I don't think those decisions have been reached yet. We are still in the phase of trying to say nice things to each other so that it's possible to look at the specifics.


    Possible to have that conversation. What is your view of this, Martin, about whether something real happened here, whether she brought back at least the beginning of something?


    I think she did bring back the beginning of something because both sides, Americans and Europeans, have looked into the abyss.

    We don't want to go through that kind of mess again. The difficulty is for both sides I think is a lot of the decisions that matter are not going to be made in either European or American capitals.

    They are going to be made on the West Bank, in Jerusalem; they are going to be made in Teheran. They are going to be made in Beijing, and to a degree in Moscow.

    Because all of those other capitals have really got a voice in what goes on and the big one that's waiting for us all, which is what do we do about Iran's nuclear program.


    A quick last question to you and we'll get back to Robin if we have time for both.

    Do you think the Europeans – I mean, in her big speech in Paris which they touted to you as the big speech, she essentially gave the Bush inaugural theme that the West will never be secure until oppressive governments stop oppressing in the Middle East and, you know, terror stops festering.

    Do you think the Europeans bought that?


    They'd like to buy — on the surface the Europeans buy it. The difficulty is that with what we are starting to hear out of Bush and now out of Condi Rice is that America stands for democracy, apple pie and motherhood. Put it in those terms and democracy becomes meaningless.


    Your feeling.


    Europeans want to make sure that the United States doesn't turn to military means again.

    They share a common agenda in promoting peace and democracy in the last bloc of countries that held out against the democratic tide. There is a commonality there; whether they can agree on the means is really the big question.


    All right. Thank you Robin, Les, Martin Walker, thank you all.

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