Rice takes office as secretary of state

Published: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 12:29 a.m.
WASHINGTON - Condoleezza Rice, a scholar of the Cold War who served as President Bush's closest foreign policy adviser during his 2000 campaign and throughout his first term, was sworn in as secretary of state on Wednesday evening, hours after the Senate confirmed her by a vote of 85-13.
Rice, who is the second woman, and the first black woman, to become secretary of state, took the oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House.
At the end of next week, after Bush's State of the Union address, Rice is expected to travel to Europe and possibly to the Middle East, according to European diplomats who already are planning for the trip. The wide-ranging agenda, they said, would concentrate on peace talks involving Israel and the Palestinians, the war in Iraq, Iran's nuclear program and attempts to spread democracy in the region. Relations with Russia and China also would be discussed, including Europe's plans to ease restrictions on arms sales to China, which the United States opposes.
Rice's move from the White House, where she was the national security adviser, to the State Department followed a week of intense debate over the Bush administration's Iraq policy, as Senate Democrats used the confirmation process to assail Rice as misleading at best and untruthful at worst.
"Condi Rice is a fine, fine public servant, greatly admired here in America and greatly admired around the world," Bush told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday, brushing aside charges from some Democrats that the administration had lied about the threat of unconventional weapons in the prelude to the war. He said Rice would make "a wonderful secretary of state."
Twelve of the Senate's 44 Democrats and its one independent voted not to confirm Rice, the highest number of votes against a secretary of state nominee since Henry Clay took the office in 1825 under President John Quincy Adams. (Two Republican senators did not vote in the Rice confirmation.)
Coming after 31 U.S. troops were killed Wednesday in a helicopter crash in Iraq, the vote portended intense foreign policy battles in Congress in the months ahead.
"As we all know, our exit strategy in Iraq is based upon the ability of the Iraqis to defend themselves, and we are all working toward that day," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who took the lead in opposing Rice. "But you can't do it if you're not going to be honest about how it's going."
Other Democrats said that while they had serious misgivings about Rice, they concluded, in the end, that the president had the right to surround himself with advisers of his choosing.
"She does have the president's ear," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. She said she was swayed by Rice's promises to place a high priority on stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons and improving public diplomacy, which "gave me some reason to believe that she could help move the president's attention to those matters."
Republicans defended Rice as eminently qualified to be the public face of U.S. diplomacy. "She's knowledgeable, she's smart, she's honorable," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
At the State Department, Rice will supervise an agency with more than 200 embassies and consulates around the world. She is expected to make her first remarks to the department's employees on Thursday morning.
The last nominee for secretary of state to receive any "no" votes was Alexander M. Haig Jr. in 1981, under President Ronald Reagan. But Rice proved a lightning rod, in part for her assertions that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear weapons. At her confirmation hearing last week, she vigorously defended herself and the White House, though she did concede that the administration had failed to anticipate the difficulties of rebuilding Iraq.
A preacher's daughter who grew up in segregated Birmingham, Ala., Rice is known as an intense, disciplined woman who has become one of the president's closest confidantes. As a child, she was trained as a concert pianist and competitive ice skater; as an adult, she served on the National Security Council staff of the first President George Bush and was provost of Stanford University. Among her mentors is Colin L. Powell, the man she will succeed at the State Department.
In 2000, in Foreign Affairs magazine, she outlined what a potential Bush administration foreign policy might look like. While the article spotlighted confronting nations that defy international norms, and dealing with powerful countries like Russia and China, it did not focus on promoting democracy - a central theme of the current Bush foreign policy since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
At his news conference on Wednesday, the president said he had not read the piece.
"I can assure you that Condi Rice agrees with me that it's necessary to promote democracy," Bush said, adding: "I didn't read the article. Obviously, it wasn't part of her job interview."

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top