The Washington Times - May 20, 2008, 06:09PM

Two years ago, I accompanied Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a trip to Liverpool and Blackburn in northern England — the home district of Jack Straw, who at the time was Britain’s foreign secretary.

From there, we flew to Iraq, with Miss Rice and Mr. Straw sharing her cabin on the plane — she let him use her bed while she slept on the floor. The trip became known in the media as “Condi and Jack’s road show.”

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Miss Rice had promised her colleague to visit his home after she had taken him to her native Birmingham, Alabama, in 2005. She said she was beginning to host a series of visits by her counterparts from other countries so they can get to know the United States outside Washington and New York.

Since then, however, Miss Rice has hosted only one other foreign minister, Alexander Downer of Australia, whose government lost re-election last fall. They visited California a year ago.

On Thursday, Miss Rice will fly to the golden state again, this time with Mr. Straw’s successor, David Miliband, who was appointed Britain’s chief diplomat when Prime Minister Gordon Brown took office last year.

They will visit her home town of Palo Alto, outside San Francisco, where she lived before coming to Washington in 2001 and worked as provost of Stanford University. They will tour Internet giant Google and Bloom Energy, an alternative energy company, and meet entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on the high-tech “cutting edge,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

“For her, it is personal,” he said. “She is able to share with one of her close colleagues a little bit of her life.”

Some of us are wondering why Miss Rice hasn’t invited on a domestic tour foreign ministers who know less about the U.S. than those from Britain and Australia, the two countries that are probably closer to the U.S. culturally than any other.

When I once suggested on the plane to her aides that she show around Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the response was: “Don’t count on it.” Apparently, she has to like the person she hosts.

Nicholas Kralev, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Times