Sometimes even secretaries of state get bigfooted. For two days, it has been obvious to all of us traveling with Condoleezza Rice this week that she would end up in Jerusalem this weekend and also deal with the leaders of Lebanon -- but Rice found artful (diplomatic?) ways to dance around committing herself. Today, it became clear why: she didn't want to preempt the boss, and that meant giving President Bush something to announce at his just-concluded White House news conference with Tony Blair.
Rice's two top Middle East advisors, David Welch and Elliot Abrams, have been in Israel since yesterday in non-stop meetings to lay the groundwork for further talks. They called her tonight (it's now after Midnight here in Malaysia) to give her a progress report. (What is she doing in Malaysia? She'd previously committed to an annual Asian summit -- requiring 30 hours of flying and a detour from Middle East diplomacy.)
While she waits here in Kuala Lampur to go back to Israel -- a return further delayed because Israeli officials cannot hold meetings during the day on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath -- she did a little other business today.
Remember that North Korean missile? (a crisis that is so "yesterday...") Rice organized a regional meeting this afternoon here in Kuala Lampur to discuss the threat from Pyongyang's missiles and nuclear program. The Chinese, key players, were 15 minutes late arriving -- after trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade North Korean officials to literally walk down the hall and attend. Despite Chinese pressure, the North Koreans refused. U.S. officials say it is surprising that the North Koreans would so deliberately insult China again, as they did when they first launched their missile, against Chinese objections. North Korea's behavior prompted America's usually patient negotiator with Pyongyang, Chris Hill, to say: "They are completely isolated and if it's isolation they want it's going to be isolation they get."
Asked here about the Asian leaders' unanimous condemnation of Israel -- (the host, who initiated the statement, is the prime minister of this Islamic country) -- the U.S. diplomat in charge of the stalemated Korean nuclear talks said, "Don't ask me about the Middle East, I have enough trouble."
That could also be said about the Secretary of State as she reboards her 757 for another 14-hour flight.