Rice to Meet with Syrian, Iranian Counterparts

Condoleezza Rice plans to attend talks on Iraq with representatives from Syria and Iran. Author Michael Fauntroy and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile talk about recent announcements from Rice with Juan Williams.

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TONY COX, host:

And now here's NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams with his weekly dose of news from the capital.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Thanks for joining us for Political Corner.

This week we're joined by Donna Brazile. Ms. Brazile is a senior political consultant in Washington. She was the campaign manager for Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign and now is a professor and political strategist for the Democratic Party.

Also with us this week for the first time, Dr. Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University, the author of "Republicans and the Black Vote." Dr. Fauntroy, thanks for joining us this week.

Dr. MICHAEL FAUNTROY (George Mason University): Thank you for having me.

COX: Donna, as always, a pleasure to have you with us.

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Democratic Consultant): It's good to be back with you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Let's talk for a second about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She's been in the news recently for saying kind things about Senator Barack Obama, who's running for the Democratic nomination. But she's also making news in her own right with new deals in North Korea and of course the possibility that she'll be attending what looks like a breakthrough conference in the Middle East involving Iraq, Syria and Iran.

Donna Brazile, what is going on with Condi Rice?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, first of all, she is testifying on Capitol Hill this week in defense of the president's new policy to add more troops in Iraq. In addition, she's defending the resources that the White House is requesting to complete - hopefully complete his mission, but I'm sure to continue his mission.

The secretary is also announcing this week that there's a regional meeting that will be held in Baghdad the first half of March, which will involve both Syria and Iran. She knows that in order to succeed in Iraq, we must have a diplomatic surge. And she has some good people around her who I believe will help her secure her legacy as someone that was able to bring America forward in this war on terror.

WILLIAMS: Donna, the reason that we're focusing on secretary of state this week is that you have a situation where many are saying that she is suddenly rising as a power in the administration, challenging the likes of Vice President Cheney in order to get the administration to agree to a deal with North Korea despite the opposition of far right-wing conservatives who are still condemning that deal, including John Bolton, the former U.N. delegate from the administration from the United States.

You have now a situation where John Negroponte, who was director of National Intelligence, is coming over as her number two. But it looks as if she really is becoming much more of a player. Is that right?

Ms. BRAZILE: Look, I think she had a rough patch as part of the president's war cabinet, especially when Don Rumsfeld was at the table, who didn't really take kindly to anyone disagreeing with him, whether it was Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, or Secretary Rice. But I believe that she has found her stride.

You know, look, I have to say in all honesty that I don't agree with everything the administration is doing on the war on terror or the one in Iraq, but I have an opportunity every now and then to sit down with Condi Rice to share my views and opinions, especially as it relates to Africa and Darfur and some other places on the globe.

And she is intelligent. She is well meaning. And I think she really wants to get this thing right in terms of putting a diplomatic face on the war on terror and not just rely on the military strategy, but rather relying on, you know, some diplomatic initiatives that can make a difference.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Fauntroy, let me read to you some numbers from the Harris poll. Last fall Condi Rice was the highest-ranking member of the Bush cabinet with a 55 percent approval rating. In early February, a Harris poll found that her approval rating had slipped to 46 percent. But she still is the superstar of the Bush cabinet. Vice President Cheney is at 29 percent, President Bush at 32 percent approval ratings. Even the new secretary of Defense Robert Gates is at only 32 percent.

So when you look at this, does it suggest that Condoleezza Rice really might have a political future if she is as successful as Donna Brazile says?

Dr. FAUNTROY: Well, I think 46 percent is not necessarily something you want to hang your hat on. I think she's going to be hard pressed going forward. I think that her legacy in many respects is always one to be about being one of the chief architects and apologists and explainers for this failed Iraq policy.

And all the while this is going on, North Korea has sort of spun somewhat out of control, although they're trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube with regard to North Korea. Still nothing going on of substance in Darfur to end the genocide there, and the other concerns around the world. And if I were the secretary of state, I would be focus on some of those other issues as well to take some attention away from what's going on in Iraq.

WILLIAMS: Well, if you were Condoleezza Rice right now and you point out that there has not been a white secretary of state, well, since Madeleine Albright was secretary of state in the Clinton years - so that has been more than 12 straight years of people of color, of women, as secretary of state and you have Condoleezza Rice in the job now - why aren't we talking about presidential candidate Condoleezza Rice?

Dr. FAUNTROY: Well, you know, that's interesting. There's been this Draft Dr. Rice movement that's been operating on the Internet for some time now. I think some of the reason why we're not talking about it is because she's - she hasn't given much hope to those folks, because she's continually said she's not particularly interested in the job.

Plus, if she were to run, she'd have to run the Iraq war all over again, and given how unpopular it is, it's difficult to see how she could break through. You know, it'd be difficult for her to win a Republican nomination, and that's just the fact. And I think when you add it all up, you know, there's no real reason for her to give it any serious thought.

WILLIAMS: Why would it be hard for her to win a Republican nomination, Donna Brazile? I was at a convention just a few months ago, conservative - CPAC - the conservatives were in town. They were all over Condoleezza Rice. They seemed to, in fact, be encouraging her to run.

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, given the dismal crop of candidates that you have on Republican side, I wouldn't be surprised that they would be interested in looking at somebody who clearly is, in terms of affirmative action, she is more in lined with Colin Powell as a moderate voice. And I'm sure on other issues of substance she may find disagreement.

But look, I think Dr. Rice has to be looked at not just in her role in the war cabinet, but also her role overall in the Bush administration. She's been deeply engaged I know personally in matters involving Africa. Just recently, when the president of Liberia was here, she managed to get a meeting with the president where they announced some major debt relief.

So I know Sudan is on her plate. She sat down with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and talked to them about major issues. And I know that she's trying her best, and it's difficult in the environment that she's working in, but she's trying to advance issues that I believe are important to African-Americans and to the general public.

WILLIAMS: Donna Brazile is a Democratic political strategist in Washington. She's the former campaign manager to Al Gore during his 2000 presidential campaign. Now a professor and, of course, a key player on Democratic politics. And Dr. Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University, and the author of "Republicans and the Black Vote." Thanks for joining us this week on Political Corner.

Ms. BRAZILE: My pleasure, Juan.

Dr. FAUNTROY: Thank you.

COX: NPR's Juan Williams joins us every Thursday with news from the capital right here on Political Corner.

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