Rice, now top diplomat, plans trip to Europe, Middle East

WASHINGTON - Condoleezza Rice worked the phones on her first day on the job as America's top diplomat Thursday, reaching out to European allies and partners in the war on terrorism and echoing President Bush's inaugural charge to promote liberty across the globe.

"The president has set forth a really bold agenda for American foreign policy," Rice said in a brief address to State Department employees who applauded as she entered the lobby. "I can't think of a better call than to say that America will stand for freedom and for liberty, that America will stand with those who want their aspirations met for liberty and freedom."

Among dozens of phone calls with foreign ministers and heads of government, Rice spoke Thursday with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini.

Lavrov congratulated Rice on her confirmation and discussed the upcoming meeting between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia, a statement from the Russian foreign ministry said.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said Musharraf also congratulated Rice and that the two "briefly discussed Pakistan-U.S. relations as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest."

Rice has a heavy task to rebuild European and other alliances worn thin by international opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and to help guide Middle East peace efforts after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The war, which has claimed the lives of more than 1,400 U.S. troops, plus looming diplomatic and security problems in Iran and North Korea also top Rice's agenda.

Rice will travel quickly to the Middle East and Europe, the State Department said Thursday. The eight-day trip begins next week, ahead of Bush's own planned fence-mending trip to Europe later in February.

Secretary Rice and her designated deputy, Robert Zoellick, plan to visit all NATO capitals in the next few months, starting with this trip to Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland and Turkey, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.


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