Diplomacy's most powerful woman, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has turned down a dinner date with other female foreign ministers to discuss women's rights, citing a busy schedule.
Fifteen of the 17 female foreign ministers at the U.N. General Assembly are to attend Sunday's dinner, organized by Swedish officials, who said Rice will not be there.
"There is no slight intended. There are many different scheduling demands on the secretary," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, adding that Rice will have other diplomatic engagements on Sunday. He said Rice has spoken out on human rights issues affecting women and will continue to do so.
The other minister who cannot attend is Roza Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan, Swedish diplomats said.
Madeleine K. Albright, who was secretary of state in the Clinton administration, began the tradition of organizing her female colleagues when she was ambassador to the United Nations and continued it when she became secretary of state.
Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said the fact that she has so few female counterparts means there is even more reason for them to discuss the role of women.
Although Sweden has improved equality "when it comes to political representation, there are still areas in our society where women don't have the same rights as men," she said. "But when we look at the rest of the world, the situation is very sad. . . . They are subject to serious abuse and human rights breaches."
The other ministers who will attend the dinner are from Austria, Croatia, Mozambique, Barbados, Macedonia, Switzerland, Guinea, Columbia, South Africa, Paraguay, Liechtenstein, Georgia, Burundi and Uganda, Swedish officials said.
They will be joined by European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.