On the Plane

Getting to Know the Diplomatic Bubble

MOSCOW, Oct. 13 -- Good afternoon. This is my first installment of the On the Plane blog, a periodic look at what it's like to travel with the president and secretary of state.

As a White House reporter for the Post, I usually travel with President Bush, but I am glad for the opportunity to see what life is like in the diplomatic bubble, as opposed to the White House bubble. I also have been curious about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has traveled here for meetings on missile defense and arms control with senior Russian officials. One of the most powerful people in the administration, Rice often leaves the impression in her TV appearances of being opaque and scripted.

So far so good: The level of access and ability to see things close-up seems much better than on the presidential trips, where you almost never get close to the big guy. Yesterday, I stood five feet away from Russian President Vladimir Putin as he delivered a harangue on missile defense and arms control to Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

This afternoon, my colleagues and I sat down for a round-table interview with Rice, an interesting experience that has happened on none of my White House trips. It was a real opportunity to see how she thinks, in a relaxed and informal setting.

Over the next few days, I will try to share some of my observations of Rice and provide a White House reporter's perspective on the world of the striped-pants set. It's apparent already, however, that some things are not different -- the photo op aimed at humanizing a public official seems to be also part of the drill at Foggy Bottom. After almost two days of serious meetings, Rice paid a brief visit this afternoon to the skating rink run by Moscow's Central Sports Club of the Army, a longtime producer of Olympic medalists. She watched as the aspiring Olympians jumped and spun their way across the ice, then came out on the ice to receive a bouquet of flowers and pose for pictures.

The reporters traveling with her hoped that Rice might take a turn herself. After all, she was good enough to skate competitively between the ages of 12 and 17. But Rice made clear beforehand that she had no intention of doing that, saying that she has not actually skated for a decade and suggesting she did not have the proper skates fitted to her feet.

"There's this theory that ice skating is like riding a bicycle, right?" Rice added with a laugh, offering perhaps the real reason. "You just get back on and you immediately know how to do it. I'm not going to take that chance in front of you all, just in case that's not true."

-- Michael Abramowitz

By washingtonpost.com Editor |  October 13, 2007; 5:37 PM ET  | Trip:  Rice in Russia and Middle East, October 2007
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Had Trey Johnson read Glenn Kessler's "The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy," he/she would not have been surprised.

Posted by: Lou Riggio | October 13, 2007 6:43 PM

Please ask Secretary Rice how she got through her description of Putin -- as an unaccountable and autocratic executive who's diminished the powers of the elected legislature -- with a straight face. That statement was certainly made in an irony-free zone.

Posted by: TeddySanFran | October 13, 2007 10:28 PM

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