In the Loop

Rice, on 'The View,' defends Obama on WikiLeaks

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice is on a book tour promoting "Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family." Here is a look at her on tour as well as at some of her other activities since leaving office.
By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 1:00 AM

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice looked somewhat befuddled Monday as she co-hosted the daytime television talk show "The View." She nodded and smiled as the regular yakkers debated the propriety of comedian and talk show host Chelsea Handler's recent stand-up performance, in which she launched a jaw-dropping, foul-mouthed trashing of Angelina Jolie.

Panel regular Whoopi Goldberg said Handler was upset at Jolie for stealing Brad Pitt from Chelsea's pal Jennifer Aniston and breaking up their marriage. Whoopi opined that Handler was way out of line - after all, the marriage broke up about six years ago.

Rice - her new book is "Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family" - has appeared on the show before, but she just didn't seem eager to engage in the lively debate on this mega-important issue.

But Rice warmed up when the topic shifted to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, decrying the damage the gusher of leaks will have on U.S. diplomacy - "People aren't going to talk to us," she said - and urging that Assange be harshly dealt with. (The actual leaker, an Army private first class, is in a military brig.)

She thought the White House appropriately referred the matter to the Justice Department for a review of possible charges, adding: "I hope they hurry up."

Another panelist asked Rice whether she agreed with former House speaker Newt Gingrich's comments Sunday on the issue. Gingrich - though he went out of his way to commend Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - implied that the leaks reflected badly on the administration.

Rice was sympathetic to the Obama team. "This could have happened to anybody," she said twice.

Her conclusion and advice for diplomats? "Reading some of this, I also thought," she said, that "people talk too much in these cables. You don't have to write everything you think. Some restraint . . . would be helpful."

Much depends on dinner

Speaking of writing too much, the cables do mention seemingly irrelevant haute - and not so haute - cuisine.

Yet food and wine can be important factors in diplomacy and decision-making. In a 2009 cable from Buenos Aires, for example, we find Argentina's deputy minister of energy, who everyone thought was due to be fired by the late President Nestor Kirchner, saved by fine trout.

"Kirchner did not speak to him for two weeks, until he unexpectedly called him asking for some trout for a dinner that Kirchner was hosting," the cable said. The deputy minister, we're told, "had a reputation for knowing where to get the best trout in Rio Gallegos." He got the fish, and "two days later Kirchner invited him for coffee . . . greeted him warmly, thanked him for the trout" and shocked everyone "by chatting amiably" with the deputy minister for a long time. The official "was not fired, and Kirchner did not raise the issue again."

Fish is important in a cable from Baku that "profiles the most powerful families in Azerbaijan, both in terms of economic and political power," and notes that a member of one family "owns and operates the Caspian Fish Company which controls the lucrative (and previously Russian Mafia-controlled) Beluga caviar production in Azerbaijan."

A cable last year from London recounts a dinner there celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Bank of China. A source said that Vice Premier Wang Qishan attended, according to the cable, "and that Wang claimed he is allergic to alcohol" but the Brits "had planned a whiskey dinner." The British apparently had been "confused . . . because the former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority had said he used to go drinking together with Wang."

Dinner ratings are also important for people thinking of going abroad. For example, anyone going to increasingly popular Astana, Kazakhstan, for a weekend would be well advised to be careful about dining at the 23rd-floor revolving restaurant atop a fancy new hotel built by a Chinese oil company.

It "provides a spectacular panorama of Astana and the empty steppe beyond," the cable says, "but it seems to revolve at varying speeds and sometimes can be a bit too fast on a full stomach and after a few glasses of wine."

Well, maybe Rice is right.

Dept. of Next Moves

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, is off this week to South Korea to tell them we're with them. And there's talk that outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson may be headed to North Korea next week for a private chat with officials there at the invitation of top people in the nuke crowd.

Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, secretary of energy in the Clinton administration and special envoy to North Korea, has been there many times. He's also been, either as a private citizen or government official, to some truly nasty places, including Zaire during the dictatorial Mobutu regime, Burma, Afghanistan when the Taliban was in power, and to talk genocidal Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir into releasing a New Mexico journalist and two others.

There had been some buzz recently that former presidential candidate Richardson, who leaves office on Dec. 31, might be in line to become chief of the Motion Picture Association of America, but that apparently was even more idle than the usual gossip. (Although you have to wonder about a guy who would prefer hanging with Kim Jong Il or Bashir over an evening with Anne Hathaway or Zoe Saldana.)

We're hearing Richardson has signed up with the Washington Speakers Bureau, which should enable him to put some fine bread on the table. But he's staying in Santa Fe to set up a center there that will focus on ways to rescue people being held hostage by bad guys and on initiating dialogue with rogue regimes.

Staff researcher Julie Tate and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this column.

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