The Spoils of Diplomatic Friendship

Golf courses have long been a favorite venue for schmoozing and deal making in the business world. High-powered executives use strolls down the fairway to hammer out details and cement agreements, or just as a way to cozy up to a business partner.

And now it appears Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is taking a page from the business world and adding it to her diplomatic playbook.

Rice Drives Distance for Iraq Supporter

Rice is on a two-day tour through California with her Australian counterpart, a leisurely trip meant to underscore the deep relationship between the two countries.

Thursday Rice and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer teed up for a round of golf on a sunny, breezy California afternoon. Call it diplomacy at the tip of a nine-iron.

There's no telling what the two talked about as they played the links, but Rice insists she hasn't taken her eye off the ball.

"I'm of course, keeping my eye on all of the hot spots around the world," she reassured Fox News in an interview Wednesday.

Such friendly trips between allies are nothing new but are usually reserved for only the closest of supporters.

Australia has remained a staunch ally of the United States throughout the Bush presidency.

The country has more than 1,400 troops in Iraq, more than 10 percent of the non-U.S. coalition troops in the country and its conservative prime minister has been a staunch supporter of President Bush.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard was in the Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, and he has not hesitated to take critics to task, including Democratic presidential candidates such as Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

In one notable incident earlier this year, Howard told an Australian television show, "If I were running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats."

Obama dismissed the rare international incident.

Last September Rice traveled to Canada to thank the country's citizens for their response to the Sept. 11 attacks, when many flights were diverted north.

Rice took the opportunity to travel with Canadian Foreign Minister Peter McKay to his hometown in Nova Scotia. She even met McKay's parents.

Previously, Rice hosted former British counterpart Jack Straw in her native state of Alabama in October 2005.

Straw returned the favor with a trip to his hometown of Blackpool, England, in April 2006 before the two made a surprise trip to Baghdad.

Diamond Diplomacy

Rice, an avid sports fan, also treated Downer to slice of Americana: his first baseball game.

"I follow cricket, not baseball," the foreign minister told the television announcers in an interview during the game.

"He's a big cricket fan and so he promised never to take me to a cricket game, even though I brought him to a baseball game," Rice said, ensuring that she wouldn't have to pack a cricket bat if she were invited to a reciprocal trip Down Under.

The two were guests of the San Francisco Giants at last night's game against the Houston Astros.

Rice and Downer sat in the owner's box next to the dugout where America's top diplomat sported a black Giants jacket and was flanked for several innings by Giants legend Willie Mays (the Giants won 9-1).

The two ministers also toured the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. They paid tribute to President Reagan by placing flowers at his gravesite and meeting in private with his widow, Nancy Reagan.

And before reaching for their golf bags Thursday morning, the top diplomats toured technology companies in Silicon Valley.

Rice is relatively new to golf. In February, about year after picking up the sport, she told ESPN.com: "I'm still at the point that if I hit it pretty straight down the fairway and can get onto the green to putt, I'm happy."

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