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Ambitious first trip for Rice sets new foreign-policy tone

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Testing the waters.

On several levels, that is what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be doing as she undertakes Thursday a crucial first foreign trip of her new job, to Europe and the Middle East.

Riding a jet stream of momentum from the Iraqi elections, Dr. Rice will plumb Europe for openings toward greater allied participation in Iraq, as well as for greater cooperation on Middle East peace.

In Israel and the Palestinian territories early next week, she will assess progress so far in taking advantage of the opportunities opened by the election of a new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to disengage from Gaza.

But Rice will also be trying out her new role, where she is more the nation's top diplomat and less the presidential adviser than she was as national security adviser. How will her influence in the White House stack up now, for example, against that of Vice President Dick Cheney's office, which is expected to maintain keen interest in US policy toward Israel?

More broadly, she will be testing reaction to the US among key foreign partners under a second Bush term, and to herself in particular as the successor to Colin Powell. A secretary of State who was highly admired in foreign capitals, Mr. Powell in the end was seen as a Bush administration outsider. Now foreign leaders will be getting to know an "insider" with close personal ties to the president.

As she does this, Rice is expected to try out the administration's new foreign-policy tone. "In her [Senate] testimony, Rice called this a time for diplomacy, she emphasized working with allies, and she wants to build on that by [signaling] that this administration gets it, that even the most powerful country in the world can't reach its goals on its own," says Bruce Jentleson, director of the Terry Sanford Institute for Public Policy at Duke University. "She seems to want to get that message out there strong and early."

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