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U.S. Foreign Policy: Powell Is Steering toward the Middle

Who will steer the Bush Administration's foreign policy? That has been the question floating around diplomatic circles in Washington and foreign capitals ever since President Bush named a team of heavy hitters. Few expected well-known hard-liners such as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney to see totally eye to eye with the more moderate former general, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. As the Administration took a tough line on everything from China to the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gases, it looked like Rumsfeld and Cheney had the upper hand.

But now, Powell is emerging as a pragmatic counterweight to his more ideological colleagues. And he is clearly scoring more points within the Administration as it comes face to face with foreign policy crises and challenges on an almost daily basis. Many of these issues are putting President Bush's campaign rhetoric to the test. "[The Bush Administration] came out swinging in a very unilateralist way," says Michael A. McFaul, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They have now moved away from that."

COMPLEX. To be sure, the relationship between Powell and Rumsfeld is far more complex than outsiders might assume. It is not a simple case of rivalry. For example, they both believe that nuclear proliferation is one of the key problems facing the U.S. And Powell supports Rumsfeld's overall vision of building a defense system to protect the U.S. from rogue states or accidentally launched nuclear missiles. Moreover, Powell's Deputy Secretary of State, Richard L. Armitage, is close both personally and politically to Rumsfeld's Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul D. Wolfowitz. They share similar views on Asia policy, for example.

Still, Powell has used his diplomatic and bureaucratic skills to pull the Administration's position toward the center on several key matters in recent weeks. Powell has taken the lead in bolstering American involvement in the deepening Middle East crisis, despite Bush's often stated views that he prefers to let the Israelis and Palestinians find their own way out of the mess. As violence has mounted again in the Balkans, Powell has argued for keeping American GIs and NATO forces on the ground--despite calls by Bush aides during the campaign and more recently that the U.S. should pull out. "We went into this together, and we'll come out together," Powell said after a NATO meeting in Budapest on May 29. And Powell jumped in front on Iraq policy, pushing for scaled-back economic sanctions that could be more acceptable to allies than comprehensive trade curbs. Says a Bush insider: "All administrations have to adjust to reality. Powell has good antennas for what reality is."

Powell's pragmatic instincts may come to serve the Administration best in its efforts to persuade its allies and Russia to accept U.S. missile defense plans. Leaders from Tokyo to Moscow to Berlin have expressed concern that Washington will abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which limits defensive weapons systems and has kept the nuclear peace. Rumsfeld would be happy to do just that to pave the way for missile defense. But Powell, backed by Armitage, is likely to seek a way to address the allies and Russia's concerns. One option: formal negotiations to amend the pact while the U.S. proceeds with missile tests.

In the end, both Rumsfeld and Powell are likely to notch up victories as they forge the Administration's foreign policy. The President just may need an ideologue's vision--and a pragmatist's diplomatic skills--to push his agenda on the world stage. Prison sentences handed down on May 30 to the four prominent defendants in France's most important bribery trial are another sign that an anticorruption drive is shaking up the highest levels of the once largely untouchable political Establishment. Among those found guilty in the case involving massive influence-peddling in the early 1990s by then state-controlled Elf Aquitaine is former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, who got 30 months.

Investigations into several other bigwigs are continuing. For the moment, though, it looks as though neo-Gaullist President Jacques Chirac will escape impeachment on corruption charges. Moves by a dissident group of Socialist Party lawmakers to begin an impeachment inquiry were quashed in mid-May by the Socialist leadership. The speculation: both left and right worry about how far the probe will go. Will Gazprom's new chief be able to clean up the sprawling, state-controlled company? Alexei Miller, 39, was made CEO on May 30 after Gazprom's board kicked longtime chief executive Rem Vyakhirev upstairs, naming him chairman. The moves marked President Vladimir V. Putin's first clear steps toward reestablishing order at Gazprom, where Vyakhirev and other managers have long blocked liberalization efforts. Miller, a Kremlin loyalist, is expected to shake up management. But he may have his work cut out if the powerful Vyakhirev interferes. Gazprom, 38% state-controlled, accounts for 8% of Russia's gross domestic product.

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