Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has instructed U.S. overseas missions to provide only minimal support to foreign visits by the two main presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, forbidding diplomats to hold events or arrange meetings for them.
In a cable sent late Thursday on the eve of Mr. Obama’s swing through the Middle East and Europe, Miss Rice told U.S. diplomats to treat the candidates as “members of Congress visiting in personal or semi-personal capacities,” but “with additional restrictions based on rules related to political activity.”
“Provide de minimis assistance to the candidate with logistical arrangements,” said the cable, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times. “If the campaign staff wants to rent a bus for press, tell them where they can rent a bus.”
Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, is in the midst of a high-profile foreign trip to Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe that is being intensely scrutinized for its political impact back home.
Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, traveled to Europe and the Middle East more than four months earlier than Mr. Obama, but the State Department did not issue special instructions for overseas missions because during that trip he led an official congressional delegation, officials said.
“It is imperative that, in implementing these various requirements, we treat both major presidential candidates evenhandedly,” Miss Rice said in her cable.
American embassies and consulates around the world are actively engaged in official visits by members of Congress and other government leaders. Diplomats meet the visitors at the airport, accompany them to meetings, most of which they have arranged, and host public events for them.
“Our interactions with the candidates need to be made in the context that they are also sitting U.S. senators and very important U.S. visitors with special security concerns,” Miss Rice said.
She banned embassies from providing and paying for transportation “unless security considerations require otherwise.” But she demanded “support to the candidate’s Secret Service protective detail.”
The secretary also let diplomats brief Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama before a meeting, and even attend meetings “if the candidate allows” it.
She forbade them, however, to “hold or arrange receptions or public events for the candidate,” to “arrange the candidate’s meetings” or to “use official funds and resources, beyond a de minimis level, to support a political trip.”
Diplomats in Washington and overseas said that Miss Rice’s instructions were appropriate, but their implementation becomes more complicated when part of a campaign trip is made with a congressional delegation, as is the case with Mr. Obama’s current travels.
On his stops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Democratic presidential hopeful was accompanied by Sens. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, and Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat. Mr. Obama’s other stops, including Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain, are not considered part of an official congressional delegation, or “CODEL” in the language of Miss Rice’s message.
Mr. Obama met briefly with top Kuwaiti officials Sunday after completing a visit to Afghanistan. He is expected to be in Iraq on Monday.
Mr. Obama’s trip is likely to overshadow Miss Rice’s own travels this week, during which she is expected to meet for the first time with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun.