- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | Susan Rice, who shares with President-elect Barack Obama skills on the basketball court, showed off her diplomatic moves Thursday at a Senate confirmation hearing to be U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

“I’ll reach out very early on to my Russian and Chinese counterparts,” Mrs. Rice said when discussing efforts to resolve crises in Zimbabwe and Sudan’s Darfur region.

Russia and China have blocked U.N. Security Council efforts to condemn the regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Both nations are also crucial to any resolution of the Darfur crisis.

Mrs. Rice’s other main priorities in New York will include climate change, preventing the spread and use of nuclear weapons and combating poverty. She also promised to increase U.N. peacekeeping capacity.

“I know the U.N. sometimes deeply frustrates Americans,” she said, but it is still “indispensable” in maintaining global security.

Mrs. Rice, who is not related to outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was Mr. Obama’s chief foreign policy adviser during the presidential campaign and has more in common with him than an interest in foreign affairs.

“She’s an athlete, and some might feel she’s a little prickly. But she’s a competitor. She wants to get to the right answer, which in sports terms is a victory,” said John Prendergast, who worked with Mrs. Rice at the State Department and the White House under the Clinton administration.

“I always find the style brought out the best in many people, although occasionally egos are bruised,” he said.

Plenty of egos will be waiting for Mrs. Rice at the United Nations.

As U.N. ambassador, she will have her hands full with public meetings, private functions and intimate conversations with other diplomats and U.N. officials. Each speech or talk will require her to press Washington’s position.

Mrs. Rice also will have to explain to the Obama administration the needs and desires of 191 friends and foes, all clamoring for attention and respect.

“Susan is an ideal choice,” said Robert Orr, an adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who knew Mrs. Rice well during her tenure in the Clinton administration. “She is a tough negotiator but also a good listener. She will represent U.S. interests and at the same time understands others’ interests.”

Susan Elizabeth Rice, 44, was born in Washington to a successful family: Her mother was an education consultant and her father was a governor on the board of the Federal Reserve.

Family friends, including former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, mentored Mrs. Rice, even as she attended Stanford University and later Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

At 29, Mrs. Rice served on the White House National Security Council as director on peacekeeping, and later as senior director for Africa. She then moved to manage Africa affairs at the State Department.

Her background means Mrs. Rice is well acquainted with much of the work under way at the United Nations and knows many of the key players. Africa generates more than three-quarters of the Security Council’s work, and drives much of the humanitarian and development agenda throughout the U.N. system.

“Our relations with the Clinton administration were not that good,” said Atoki Ileka, U.N. ambassador from Congo. “They favored Rwanda, even when their soldiers were streaming over our border,” he said, referring to a militia that continues to destabilize Congo. “But she is smart and I think she will be an honest broker here.”

Mrs. Rice’s nomination is expected to sail through the Senate.

• Nicholas Kralev reported from Washington

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