On the Plane

An Object Lesson in the Need to Think Boldly

BERLIN, May 31--Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined a select group of luminaries tonight when she received the prestigious Eric M. Warburg Award from Atlantik-Brücke, an organization dedicated to building ties between Germany and the United States. Rice was honored for her contributions to German unification when she was a mid-level staffer in George H.W. Bush's White House in 1989-91.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, receives the Eric M. Warburg Award Thursday from Thomas Enders, the chairman of the 'Atlantik Bruecke' (Atlantic Bridge) society. (AP)

Who else has received this award? Well, her old boss, the former president, did. So has former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kohl, in fact, made the introductory remarks at the dinner celebrating Rice, held in the historic city of Potsdam south of Berlin.

In her prepared remarks, Rice admitted to thinking that it was a little odd that she was now part of this august group.

Calling Kohl "a hero to the German people and a personal hero of mine," Rice said: "I find it ironic that I am sharing this evening with you, and I am the one being honored for helping to unify Germany. You sat at the table and took the hard decisions; I just feel fortunate that I got to help negotiate the shape of that table."

Indeed, Rice by her own account was a late-comer to the principal U.S. strategy that helped to usher in German unification during the tumultuous days after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

The 1995 book "Germany Unified and Europe Transformed," which Rice co-wrote with another former Bush staffer Philip Zelikow, relates how at several crucial points she (and other members of the White House staff) were uncomfortable with the policy advocated by Secretary of State James A. Baker. Yet Baker's arguments often carried the day against the more cautious White House staff.

One of the most important decisions for the U.S. was pushing an approach called "Two plus Four," largely developed by then Baker aides Robert B. Zoellick (the new World Bank nominee) and Dennis Ross. Zelikow and Rice write that the two men wanted to find a way to get the Soviet Union involved in the unification process, as a way of making sure Soviet officials accepted the result.

But national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and his aides, including Rice and Zelikow, were opposed, preferring to let the Germans reunify and then presenting it to the Soviets as a done deal. Baker, aided by Zoellick and Ross, successfully outmaneuvered the White House team, leaving bruised feelings in his wake.

In the end, the process designed by Zoellick and Ross was seen as crucial to the ultimate success of reunification.

--Glenn Kessler

More From Kessler: Rice: U.S. Will Not Change Conditions for Iran Nuclear Talks.

By washingtonpost.com Editors |  May 31, 2007; 3:08 PM ET  | Trip:  Rice in Europe, May 2007
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