WASHINGTON – When former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) became secretary of state, she increased her visibility abroad and her prestige at home beyond even that of her predecessor Colin Powell (search). Policy watchers say so far her diplomatic style is skillful.
"You create a context in foreign policy with your style and that's what she's done," said former Mideast envoy and FOX News contributor Dennis Ross. "Condi Rice has re-energized America's diplomacy and foreign policy in the few months she's been there, sending the message that we have something to say, but we're also prepared to listen."
In the 18 weeks she's been secretary of state, Rice has spoken Russian to the Russians in Moscow, reached rapprochement with the Europeans in Paris and has taken tea with China's Communist leadership in Beijing.
Rice has also visited Baghdad, Ramallah and Latin America. Everywhere she's gone, she has garnered mostly positive reviews, drawing notice for her carefully controlled diplomacy and even her sartorial flair.
Foreign policy analysts say the most important distinction between Rice and Powell is her closeness to President Bush.
"It was clearly assumed by the world that Colin Powell had a different agenda than the president, that he disagreed with the president on many fundamental issues," said Cliff Kupchan, director of Research for Europe and Eurasia at Eurasia Group.
"When Condi Rice speaks, she is perceived by the world as speaking in the name of the president," he added.
Though Rice is still in a honeymoon period, it has not all been smooth sailing.
Hours after she welcomed a new era of transatlantic harmony in Paris, she gave an interview to FOX News in which she faulted the French, English and Germans for not making clear to Iran that its nuclear programs could result in a referral to the U.N. Security Council.
"I don't know that anyone has said that as clearly as they should to the Iranians," she said in the February interview.
Two days later, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Rice tamped down her criticism.
"I believe that everybody is telling the Iranians that they are going to have to live up to their international obligations or next steps are in the offing; and I think everybody understands what next steps mean," she said.
In Moscow last April, when Rice spoke of her desire to see Russia playing "a constructive role" in world affairs, her Russian host responded with undisguised sarcasm.
"We are also interested that the U.S. should be a strong and democratic partner and country playing an active role internationally," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"A sharp response from the Russians, based on my 25 years in the field, doesn't mean that the message didn't get across; in fact, it probably means the message did get across," Kupchan said.
If Rice has earned high marks early on for projecting openness and tactfulness in U.S. foreign policy, the ultimate measure of her success will depend above all on the answers to three questions, said Ross.
"How has she been able to deal with the Iranian question? What has she been able to do on North Korea? When it comes the Israeli-Palestinian issue, has there been a change and what has she contributed to it?" Ross asked.
One hallmark of Rice's diplomatic style has already emerged, an unwillingness to commit U.S. prestige to direct talks unless and until they show some chance of success. Thus the talks over Iran's nuclear program have been left to the Europeans while a five-party alliance, of which the United States is one member, handles any dialogue to be had with the North Koreans.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' James Rosen.