Secretary Rice

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(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin has been watching the progress of our new Secretary of State with interest and considerable pride.

(KUNIN) Condoleezza Rice’s whirlwind global tour in her first days as Secretary of State has put U. S. foreign policy under a bright spotlight.

Part superstar, part diplomat, and a total representative of her President, she is giving the United States the opportunity to set a new agenda – an agenda which may not be radically different from the past. But in diplomacy, it’s not reversals that count; it’s nuance.

This bright African American woman makes a statement the second she steps up to the podium. I didn’t agree with her on going to war with Iraq, or now, with her sabre rattling in Iran. But I confess, I feel a current of pride when I see a roomful of white men, seated quietly in ornate halls, hanging onto each of her words. No one is writing about her clothes or her hair style. Instead, one observer simply said, “She’s tough as nails.”

First Madeleine Albright, now Condoleezza Rice. It thrills me when a woman’s words matter.

She symbolizes change – not just change in image, but, very possibly, change in policy. We cannot assume that she’ll be the same in her new job as she was in her old job. The Secretary of State has a platform that is almost as large as that of the President. She is now not only advising the President on foreign policy; she is formulating foreign policy.

It may have simply been exquisite timing, or it may be a strong statement of new U. S. priorities, but her presence in Egypt at a Summit meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Mahmoud Abbas this week gave a huge lift to the Mid East peace process. She offered not only words, but action: Lt. General William E. Ward to help guide mid east security; and 40 million dollars of new aid for the Palestinians for job creation and infrastructure improvements.

The big day was yesterday when the Palestinian and Israeli leaders met at the Red Sea Resort, Sharm el Sheik to announce a cease fire. Hopes are high that, this time, it will hold. Caution is also strong. In the last four years there have been 10 announcements of cease fires that broke down. What is different today is that Arafat is gone and new Palestinian leadership has taken over. And the United States is inviting both men to visit the White House – a coveted invitation.

Time will tell whether the new American Secretary of State will succeed in offering tough love to a world that is tottering on an uncertain base of terrorism and violence. What we now know is that her presence marks a new beginning. And that – at the very least – gives us hope.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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