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The rise of Rice and a new 'realism'

The Bush administration's response to events in Lebanon and Iran show signs of a more cooperative approach to the world.

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She's in the news for her sartorial sensations and for a so-categorically-denied-it-sounded-like-yes response to speculation she'll run for president in 2008.

In Condoleezza Rice's early weeks as secretary of State, she is racking up air miles at a near record pace and overseeing a Bush foreign policy that appears to be shifting lately in her direction. Some expert observers are calling it a shift to "realism" - of the kind Ms. Rice promoted in the early days of the Bush presidency, when she was national security adviser. Some signs:

• After months of refusal, the US is now joining three European Union countries in offering incentives to Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

• In Lebanon, the US has remained focused on demands for Syria's withdrawal while avoiding blunt criticism of Hizbullah's role there. That is widely seen as a "realistic" approach, given the Islamist organization's wide appeal in the country.

Rice is also marking her tenure early with a kind of suitcase diplomacy: She's in Asia this week, with stops in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, before turning to China, South Korea, and Japan, to take up the thorny issues of North Korea and China-Taiwan relations. The whirlwind trip follows a stop in Mexico last week to set up Bush's summit with North American leaders set for next Wednesday, and earlier fence-mending forays to Europe - one with a detour to the Middle East.

"It was sometimes hard to get Colin Powell on a plane, but if things hold up it looks like it's going to be hard to keep Condoleezza Rice off of a plane," says Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs, now at George Washington University's Eliott School of International Affairs. "That alone suggests there's going to be a different style to her secretaryship."

In some respects, the shifts in Bush foreign policy reflect a common readjustment that often takes places in the segue into a second term. "Clearly any administration after a first term picks up more experience, and you tend to see more skillful and sensible diplomacy," says Robert Lieber, a foreign-policy expert at Georgetown University in Washington. "You saw that in the Clinton administration between the first and second terms as well."


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