Rice's Diplomatic 'No Spin' Zone?
CAIRO, Oct. 16--From a reporter's perspective, one of the best things about traveling with Condoleezza Rice is the unusual face time you get with the secretary of state. It's certainly better than the extremely limited access reporters have to President Bush on his forays abroad.
Rice's aides say she is generally more available to journalists on trips abroad than she is back home in Washington; in part, the State Department staff sees such access as a benefit for those news organizations that spend big bucks sending their reporters around the world with Rice (Washington Post bean counters, take note!).
Like her predecessors, Rice wanders back on the plane to talk with reporters during most legs of her travel. She also makes time for what her staff calls "reporter roundtables," a more relaxed setting than the formal press availabilities she conducts with foreign ministers and other leaders.
The roundtables consist--literally--of reporters sitting around a table pitching whatever is on their minds at the secretary of state. Everything is on the record, but it would be wrong to say that Rice often makes news. As anyone who watches her on television can attest, she is very skillful at deflecting efforts to knock her off her talking points, and she calmly bats away questions that imply U.S. policy has been anything less than absolutely the best approach to whatever problem may be at hand.
Thus in discussing Russia with us on Saturday, Rice made the case, essentially, that the Kremlin's slide towards authoritarianism was something over which the United States had very little influence. At the same time, she suggested that relations between the two countries are better than critics suggest. Asked whether she was frustrated by the differences over missile defense and democracy, Rice said "It's the nature of big, complex relationships."
"They have said they want to cooperate," she added, referring to Iran's nuclear activities. "They have said we have . . . common threats. We don't agree on the exact nature of the threat, but we have common threats."
That roundtable in Russia was small, including just the half-dozen correspondents traveling on Rice's plane. In Jerusalem two days later, we were joined by a number of U.S. reporters based in the Middle East. Their presence elicited sharp questions for Rice, but also made the whole exercise a little less intimate and, it seemed, less interesting.
Rice pushed back at the implicit suggestion in one question that the U.S. has been disengaged in the Middle East -- and is trying now to make up for lost time. "We didn't start yesterday trying to move this issue forward," she said, citing Bush's formal announcement in 2002 that the United States was seeking a Palestinian state.
Too careful a diplomat ever to concede significant error on the part of the Bush administration, Rice nevertheless seems to open up a bit more in the roundtable setting. During her Russia trip, the secretary spent two days deflecting questions about President Vladimir Putin's possible plan to extend his hold on power. But in her own careful way, at the roundtable, she made clear her impatience with the Kremlin approach.
"I've said that I think there's too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. And I've told the Russians that," Rice said. ". . . There are questions about the independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma."
Judge for yourself how she did and whether she is engaged in anything more than just administration spin. Here are links to the State Department transcript of our two roundtable sessions:
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Posted by: V. Algernon Horwitz | October 17, 2007 1:02 PM
Posted by: Condi 2008 | October 17, 2007 1:26 PM
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