- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

The offices and corridors of the State Department were unusually quiet Nov. 16, the day President Bush nominated Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser for the past four years, to be secretary of state.

“It’s not because we don’t like her, but because we don’t know what exactly to expect,” one official said.

Just over two month later, attitudes have changed, and officials at the State Department now speak with enthusiasm about their expected new boss, who appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today for confirmation hearings.

“She is very solid, and we all have been impressed,” said a senior official who met with Miss Rice during her transition briefings at the department. “We look forward to working with her.”

Aides say the main reason Mr. Bush asked her to be secretary of state was to strengthen U.S. diplomacy by reaching out to allies and other countries, as well as by improving the way America projects its image in the world.

The Bush administration, compared with its first term, plans to invest more in “personal diplomacy” and in less-formal relations with foreign leaders, officials said.

The approach involves a different style of foreign travel by both Mr. Bush and Miss Rice, which will not be limited to attending mandatory meetings and large summits.

Mr. Bush, who is not a fan of long, formal sessions of reading and listening to prepared talking points, prefers to simply have “human conversations,” aides said.

“Many advisers, having had the campaign experience last year, were reminded of his skills connecting with people,” a senior administration official said.

Miss Rice, officials said, plans to travel overseas when she does not have to, even if only to talk to foreign officials and share views about a policy or decision while things are still “cooking” in Washington.

At the beginning of Mr. Bush’s first term in 2001, many allies complained that they first learned about U.S. policies that affected them from press reports.

The administration was soon branded “unilateral,” and that label stuck through the ongoing war in Iraq.

Miss Rice is also expected to travel more in the United States to highlight to ordinary Americans the importance of diplomacy and to educate them about international affairs, aides said.

“I fully understood the action-forcing mechanism of a traveling secretary,” former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in a recent interview.

“One, it creates the necessity for your own government bureaucracy to get its act together as to what the message will be, and then the place you are going to is trying to figure out how to respond.”

Miss Rice and Mrs. Albright first met three decades ago when Mrs. Albright’s father, Josef Korbel, was Miss Rice’s professor at the University of Denver.

Like another former secretary of state, James A. Baker III of the first Bush administration, Miss Rice will have the ear of the president, which, some officials speculated, will give the State Department more weight in decision-making.

“I had a relationship with my president that few secretaries are lucky enough to have,” Mr. Baker said recently. “I was a 35-year personal friend; he was my daughter’s godfather; and I was his political counselor. Nobody was going to get between me and my president.”

Unlike Mr. Baker and Mrs. Albright, who are remembered at the State Department for often neglecting its career professionals and relying exclusively on a close circle of advisers, Miss Rice appears to be turning to the ranks.

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, and Daniel Fried, a Foreign Service officer working for Miss Rice at the White House, are expected to be in her senior team at the State Department.

Robert B. Zoellick, her designated deputy and the U.S. trade representative, was part of Mr. Baker’s inner circle.

Miss Rice has said she enjoys being a manager, dating to her time as provost of Stanford University in the 1990s.

“The job was essentially making the trains run on time,” she said in a 2000 interview. “I like this hands-on, day-to-day, strategic problem-solving. What I learned helped me understand what it is to be an executive.”

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