Rice's Delicate Choice of Words
ASWAN, Egypt, March 24 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived here this afternoon for talks with Arab leaders on the first leg of a Middle East trip to lay out a "mechanism" for peace.
What does that mean? That was the word Rice used in a briefing for reporters before she left Washington, but after take-off State Department officials wandered back to the press section of the plane to suggest that wasn't the best term. The word "approach" was suggested, to be used this way: Rice is setting an approach to a political horizon.
That certainly makes it clearer.
Welcome to world of diplomacy. Words have consequences and meaning, especially in the Middle East, where many words have become encrusted with deep significance.
Israeli officials, for instance, were upset that Rice recently referred to the "right of return" for Palestinians. That's a Palestinian phrase meaning they want the right to return to homes left behind a half-century ago when Israel declared it was a state. Israelis think Palestinians need to live in a Palestinian state, and thus refer to the "Palestinian refugee issue." Were Rice's words a slip of the tongue or deliberate? (I haven't had a chance to ask her yet.)
The challenge for diplomats is to come up with a fresh and descriptive phrase that has positive meaning -- but nothing negative. This weekend, Rice will shuttle back and forth between Palestinian and Israeli officials, seeking to set up a parallel set of understandings that would guide future peace talks. Israelis and Palestinians have so many different objectives -- and different ways to express those goals -- that Rice believes they first need to agree what they are talking about.
One Rice aide suggested that this was akin to double slalom skiing -- but that also has a certain "downhill" image that makes it a poor sell for a diplomatic catchphrase.
Here's how Rice tried to describe what she was doing when she met with reporters on Friday:
"What would make this trip a success for me is if I can establish that we have now a common approach to moving forward on developing, articulating a political horizon. And by common approach, I mean that I can in parallel talk about the same issues, establishing this mechanism. And by mechanism, I really mean a set of elements, a set of questions that we're going to ask and explore."
After Rice spoke, a reporter replied: "I still don't understand, I personally, what you're talking about."
Rice said she hoped to provide more clarity on Monday, at the end of her trip. "Hopefully, I'll be able to give you a little bit better idea of whether we've established that mechanism, but that's really what I'd like to do," she said.
Rice brought along her chief speechwriter, Christian D. Brose, which is a strong hint that the phrasing will be much more refined by Monday.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Crystal Dueker | March 24, 2007 3:25 PM
Posted by: mikeasr | March 24, 2007 5:13 PM
Posted by: Bukko in Australia | March 24, 2007 6:05 PM
Posted by: xxx | March 24, 2007 6:58 PM
Posted by: Alan | March 25, 2007 8:10 AM
Posted by: reader | March 25, 2007 10:47 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | March 25, 2007 5:14 PM
Posted by: Rhatso | March 25, 2007 5:15 PM
Posted by: Debbie Watson | March 29, 2007 1:22 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.