These must be heady days for Condoleezza Rice.
Not even two months into her new job as secretary of state, she is routinely asked by interviewers around the world whether she wants to be president. Crowds gather to see her limousine. This week, a television reporter in India told her that she was "arguably the most powerful woman in the world." She laughed but did not exactly agree -- or disagree.
But along with the new celebrity, Rice seems to have found her style -- unremittingly positive and upbeat with allies and friends, but frank and even brutal with others.
Wherever she goes, she wears her close relationship with President Bush on her sleeve. It is the perception that she has the president's ear that gives her much of her power.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell carried the opposite perception, which left him at times without the influence that Rice so obviously wields.
"I know President Bush very much wants to come to Pakistan," she said in Islamabad.
"The president very much values the enhanced relationship between the United States and India," she said in New Delhi.
She says she sees this as her moment and wants to leave a mark.
"This is a great time," she said in an interview with ABC News in Kabul, Afghanistan, after being asked once again whether she wants to be president. "My desire is to do the best job I can do as secretary of state. We have a lot of challenges.
"If we can do this well," she continued, then "we can leave the world better for generations."
Toward that end, Rice's strategy is to remain in tight control of what she says and does at every moment. She has a script and does not vary from it.
Flying to Tokyo on Friday, she said, "We have the best relationship with Japan, the broadest and deepest relationship we have ever had." In India, she said, "We have taken our relationship to a new level."
In Islamabad, she told the Pakistani foreign minister that the US and Pakistan had a "broad and deep relationship"; the US, she added, would be "a friend for life."
But nations on the wrong side of American diplomacy get no such warmth. She seems barely able to restrain her scorn for Syria, Iran and North Korea. "We don't intend to do anything to legitimize the Iranian regime," she said last week. As for the Syrian presence in Lebanon, her view is even more unvarnished: Syria needs to "get out," she said.
State Department officials said Powell was neither so confrontational with nations at cross-purposes with Washington -- or so delicate and restrained with allies.
Speaking to reporters on her plane to Tokyo, Rice seemed to be saying that in her mission to make a difference, China would probably be her greatest challenge.
"China can be a positive influence in the region," she said, adding, however, that it could just as easily become the region's biggest problem.
America's diplomatic mission, and hers, she said, is "to guide it to the positive side of the ledger." Still, she acknowledged, "I don't want to underestimate the challenge."
For now, at least, China seems to be on her good side, because she described it in the same terms she used for India, Afghanistan and other undisputed allies. The US and China, she said, "have the best relations we've had in a long time."
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